“What, no Seafood?!? No problem, I give you Octopus!” No, I didnt crash a Greek wedding, nor have I actually heard this said before. It was simply the pre-trip imagination at work, anticipating yet another seafood heavy leg. I imagined after 10 fishfull days, we stumble onto a small family Konoba somewhere on the Istrian coast, begging an English speaking baka (a Croatian Babushka) for some meat. But luckily for us, not only we never really got tired of those Adriatic crustaceans, we wanted more. And just like its big sister to the north and across the pond, inland here means meat. Wonderful glorious meat!
Istria was the one. The most highly anticipated leg. But what I didnt anticipate was that we would have plenty of exceptional meals going in (In this case quite literally). Places like Amfora in Dubrovnik, Nostromo in Split, and the brilliant Konoba Pece in Vinjerac. The bar was raised pretty high. But overall, we did… borrowing from Mr McConaughey … alright, alright alright.
La Vela (Rovinj) – Whats better than a slow long dinner in that part of Europe? A slow long lunch. And after doing one of those one day, a fast pizza may be in order. La Vela, tucked inside a side street, feels almost like a local speakeasy. And the pizza, while it wont win any awards in NY, is satisfying.
Barba Danilo (Rovinj)– One of the finest gems in Rovinj just so happened to be a 5 minute drive from our apartment. On the modern, elevated side with a refreshing oddity of the owner being one of the waiters. Food ranged from delicious crafty combinations like Polenta with shrimp and sun-dried tomato ‘toasts’, to a spicy squid and veggies concoction. There was also a nicely seared tuna (though could have used some sauce), and a fantastic crab salad. And of course that famous Istrian pasta with meat ragu we were enjoying on this leg
Batelina (Pula) – One of the premier seafood destinations in the country. The menu is all… wait.. do they even have a menu? “So, lets talk about tonight’s menu” is the menu. This is what I like about Croatian dining scene. Menus in many cases simply serve as eye candy, until the real eye candy comes in a form of Today’s Catch tray. At Batelina your meal may start with an array of clever cold apps like conger eel pate with scallions (so good), sea bream carpaccio with Tapioca ‘eggs’ doing their best caviar impersonation, sardines, shark liver pate, a tuna like Bonito fish. The anchovies here were the only thing I didnt care for. Middle course may consist of perfectly cooked scallops, and/or pasta with bay scallops, before sharing the mammoth seabass cooked two way, because the woman behind you just snagged the last Scorpion Fish! Note: after she finished eating, the scorpion thief went into a long violent cough which I believe I may have caused with powers I didnt know exists.
Konoba Stari Podrum – You go for the location, the family, the look, the food, the wine. You just go! when you arrive it feels like you just entered a mystical gateway into Tuscania, with unicorns, puppies and flying Bisteca Fiorentinas ready to come into the picture. The place is right next door to the stunning Kozlović winery which is another reason to visit. We enjoyed the app plate of mushrooms, prosciutto, salami, and truffled cheese. Gnocchi with meat ragu featured very tender, juicy beef, but surprisingly the pasta with asparagus and cheese won me over more. So light and delicate, yet so delicious. And yes there was a Bistecca, while cooked slightly longer than across the border, a delicious one nonetheless.
Viking – Sometimes its the unexpected and unanticipated that produce the fondest memories. The only place in Croatia we visited twice. The second time, we were greeted with hugs and kisses. And while I dont usually recommend places for their location, this lake like setting is hard to pass on. Though its not a exactly a lake, but a gorgeous Fjord called Limsky. This is the kind of old school I admire. No fuss, keeping it simple, doing things the same way generations of Vikings have done before. Another solid prawn risotto. Fresh seafood plate (top of page) featuring some of the sweetest scampi of the trip. During the meal I recalled that Char-grilled oysters were first introduced in NOLA by Croatian immigrants and sure enough they have them here. So we had to come back the next day. Cant say they were amazing, but the raw oysters here tastes mighty fine.
Histria Aromatica – A very unique herb plant farm. Striking views from its modern building that also serves as an education center. You can stroll around for a small fee, or take a tour for a bigger fee. Restaurant and pool on site
Stancija Kumparička – A goat cheese farm near Pula. We had a blast spending time with Sasa, Ales and their goats, dogs, and chickens. A educational tour, tasting and plenty of animals to keep us entertained. Their fresh ricotta with the homemade Dulce de Leche was insanely delicious. By the end, sitting there in that table in the country side under a tree was like visiting new old friends.
Karlić tartufi – I already wrote about this truffle gem and their scrambled eggs here
Stancija Kovačići – Technically not in Istria, but worth mentioning. We need to get to Istria somehow and legally we have to leave at some point. Might as well make this your resting spot