Liquid nitrogen and sugar glass: More details on Nightbell, Cúrate owners’ modern speakeasy

Max Cooper
Max Cooper

Chef Katie Button says three is a magic number.

That's how many restaurants Asheville can expect from her.

Button and her family, who own Cúrate bar de tapas on Biltmore Avenue, announced their second restaurant last week.

Nightbell, a gourmand's niche with a speakeasy atmosphere, will open hopefully in time for a New Years Eve celebration, Button says.

“It's all about the experience,” Button says. “We're trying to bring a different experience from Cúrate. We're trying to create our own feeling.”

She's noticed a couple of different types of patrons at Cúrate: sit-down diners and culinary itinerants. The later simply want to try a couple of dishes and have a glass of wine before moving on, and she wants to give them another outlet. After all, that's how she and her husband and co-owner, Felix Meana, like to dine.

“Felix and I, when we go out, we love to go to 3 or 4 different places,” she says. “The walking from place to place in a downtown is really nice. It just makes an evening out of it.”

Nightbell is certainly designed for pedestrians. The entrance to the 32 S. Lexington Ave. space won't have much branding, so guests will have to get close to the building to notice it.  A doorman should heighten the intrigue, although his post will be more for whimsy than exclusivity.

The second floor barroom will offer small plates, cocktails and high end wines. There will be plenty to eat for dinner, but that won't be a formal experience. “More finger food, less utensils,” Button says.

Potential small plates include lobster rolls, duck and waffles and “a twist on angels on horseback with oysters and smoked pancetta foam,” according to the press release. (In their typical form, angels on horseback consist bacon-wrapped oysters.)

The classic — but updated — hors d'oeuvres on Nightbell's menu are something of a throwback to the 1950s, Button admits. It's a trend that's unfolding in cities around the country. “It's something familiar, but at the same time, it's different and new,” Button says. “Some of those things we had planned on our menu for awhile, we're looking and watching them pop up [other places]. It's funny how everyone kind of gets on a vibe.”

Particularly on the dessert list, Button will draw from her modernist roots — which include stages at elBulli in Roses, Spain, Noma in Copenhagen, and The Bazaar in Los Angeles. Expect elaborate hard candies and cheesecake spheres set with gelatin.

The concept also includes craft cocktails and specialty liquors. Meana, also an elBulli alum, will spearhead that endeavor. “We're going to be playing with liquid nitrogen,” he says. “The bartenders will spend 3 or 4 hours preparing.”

Cúrate is known for its expansive wine selection, but the wine list at Nightbell will focus on high-end bottles. “The wine program that we have is going to be very limited,” Meana says. “No more than 16 wines, and maybe I will offer 6 of them by the glass, but very top [quality].”

He'll source special order tequila, mezcal, rye, rum, scotch and bourbon. “We're going to try to educate people on the liquor side,” he says. “There will be opportunities to have these special sips.

At Cúrate, Meana focuses on front of house matters — he's largely responsible for the restaurant's reputation for good service. At Nightbell, he'll add DJ bookings to his list of responsibilities.

Button hopes Nightbell will draw mix masters from all over the country. Most nights, though, Meana's brother, Cesar Meana, will provide the music. He's worked as a DJ in Barcelona and in the Meanas' hometown.

Cesar will play a wide mix of modern and classic hits. “His background is more American music,” Felix says. “15 years ago, 10 years ago, he was always recording CDs and giving them to his friends. He was the one letting us know what's coming.”

In some ways, the story of Cúrate starts with Cesar. “He was 21; I was 18; we opened a bar together in Roses,” Meana says. “The crew from elBulli, they were hanging out there. That's how I ended up meeting Albert Adrià, Ferran Adrià, all that grew from elBulli. That's why I ended up working at elBulli for them later on. In the end, everything's coming back.”

Without that elBulli connection, Button and Meana might never have met. Thus, no Cúrate, no Nightbell and no restaurant No. 3.

What will that project be? Button says its too soon for speculation, but she thinks Asheville has room for a third Button/Meana concept.

“We are a little bit itching to have a small place that we can both truly be our best at what we want to do and offer the level of service that we want to offer,” she says. “That one will be a few years down, for sure.”

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