Saturday, June 3, 2017
ok. I have to come clean. This truly pains me to admit, but through a cruel trick of technology I have managed to absolutely DELETE all photos from today. Yep – all. Gone into the place where all lost files are stored. Janel and Rich try to make me feel better about it, but I am sick. Some of the photos of today were true gems (we actually looked at them at the end of the evening. Good thing too because that was the last time they will ever be seen.) Fortunately, Janel snapped a few photos along the way today.
The alarm rings way too early (4:30am), but I am up and ready super quick. We are to meet Janel at 5:00 in order to make it to the airport for our flight to Croatia at 7:10. Of course we are met with a long line at the Veuling check-in counter and don’t even have time to visit the lounge for proper caffeination before take-off. We arrive at our gate as the boarding process starts.
The flight to Zagreb is about 2 1/2 hours. I am asleep before take-off. isWhen we land I am refreshed and ready to go. We encounter our first taste of Croatian hospitality and humor at the Sixt Car Rental counter. The agent is a crack up. He teases us for not accepting the extra insurance saying that now his children will not be able to eat… We do make one extra charge and that is for a Wi-Fi car hot spot. I am thinking that it could probably help us out a lot in our attempts to navigate the country.
Last effort is to acquire some HRK (Croatian Kruna). The exchange rate is a bit complicated. $1.00 USD is 6.58 HRK. Hmm. I am not sure how we are going to deal with that. In the end, we decide not to deal and just pay what we are asked. When a hotel room or restaurant is in the neighborhood of 500 HRK we won’t panic.
Our little VW Polo is ready to go and Janel has been given navigation duties. She is so much better at that task than me and I am more than happy to sit in the back and let the scenery fly by.
Our trip from Zagreb has us heading due West and then South in order to end up in the Istrian town of Banjole. See the map HERE. (Istria (/ˈɪstriə/; Croatian, Slovene: Istra; Istriot: Eîstria; German: Istrien), formerly Histria (Latin), is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Kvarner Gulf. It is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy)
Istria definitely feels a lot like the Amalfi Coast of Italy – just a bit “rougher.”
The entire purpose for our long drive to Banjole is to have dinner at a very special restaurant – Konoba Batelina. More on this later.
Side note: The car wi-fi hotspot is an awesome tool! It is very simple to use and the signal is strong. Janel can connect with her phone to use Google Maps. I can connect with my computer to blog when I need to catch up. We can text upcoming hotels/restaurants etc. Great add-on!
Our first stop in Istria is Chiavalon Olive Oil where we have scheduled a 2:00 tasting. We end up having a private tour/tasting with Ivana (?) She is super knowledgeable and personable. The grove is fantastic and the setting idyllic. So sorry we don’t have any photos…
We are guided into the tasting room and taught how to taste the oil. Then she puts before us a delightful platter of local salami and cheeses. Oh – and of course she pours local white wine. What a perfect introduction to Croatia. We love the oil (Janel makes a purchase). We are told there is an importer in the US and will check it out upon our return.
Janel expertly guides us the rest of the way to Banjole and Apartment Greta. If you would like to see photos you can click HERE. We meet the owner (Greta) who speaks very little English but has a killer smile. Somehow we all understand each other. Our apartment is on the third floor and is a cute, super clean place with 2 bedrooms, living/dining area and a full kitchen. We have a great view of the water just across the road. Doesn’t take us too long to settle in.
Our dinner reservation (made weeks ago by Greta) at Batelina is for 7:00pm. We would really prefer to dine later, but in reading about the restaurant I heard that if you don’t get there early enough they may be out of some items… That can’t happen! We have just enough time to walk down to the harbor and partake of a happy hour beer – our first taste of Croatia. Paltana Bar is right on the harbor and looks perfect.
The weather is simply perfect for sitting outside and enjoying the surroundings. We have to tear ourselves away in order to walk to Batelina on time.
When doing research for this trip and trying to find the perfect restaurants, the name of Konoba Batelina kept appearing. (A “Konoba” is a family run tavern-type of place. Not fancy, but comfy.) I was convinced early on that it was a must go. It didn’t hurt that our friend, Tony Bourdain, featured the Konoba in his Croatia episode.
No walk ins. No credit cards. Not open at lunch time. Not open on Sundays. Not open during the first three weeks of August. No extensive wine list. And yet, they are never hurting for customers.
“Give David Skoko fresh fish or shellfish – the more underrated, the better – and he’ll turn it into a pure and simple but glorious piece of culinary art. His sister is responsible for crazy and yummy desserts that are light years from standard offer in Croatian restaurants (palačinke).”
“For majority of us, home cooks, the fish head is for the soup, the fillets are for a main course. The rest is for the seagulls and cats. At konoba Batelina, seagulls and cats are actually very skinny and furious (although when I think about it now, their cat is pretty fat. Hm, a real mystery!). Everything is used to create an amazing and delicious dishes for the guests.”
“This family-owned tavern is in the heart of all true Croatian gourmands. They put quality before profit, promote local ingredients and wine and make you feel like among friends.”
We are shown to our table and the show begins. Our server immediately informs us “We only serve fish – are you aware of that?” Immediately reminds me of our short-haired ladies trip to Praiano several years ago where Papa at Bar Mare asked us “Do you like Feesh?”
He explains to us that we can sample all the appetizers in small portions and then we will move on from there. Done. We put ourselves in the chef’s hands and never look back. Our server warns us not to fill up on the bread (which is absolutely delicious with the awesome olive oil). He says many people make that mistake.
We are presented with a dizzying array: Carpaccio of Sea Bream, Marinated Red Mullet, Fried Bones (yes!) of Mullet, Mousse of Conger Eel, Anchovies, Octopus Salad, and Shark Liver Pate.
We choose to sample each dish together and then make judgement calls as to our favorite. Each one is outstanding. The Fried Mullet Bones were a standout.
When we have decimated all of the appetizers, our server comes over with a large platter of fresh fish from which we are to choose. It all looks wonderful. We ask for his favorite and he directs us right away to the huge Scorpion Fish. We have seen them diving, but have never eaten one. He tells us it is fabulous. Giddyup. We might need a second bottle of wine to get through this course. Rich tries to protest, but we persevere.
When the Scorpion fish (whole) is presented it is a thing of beauty – trust me on this one. We go after it. omg This may be the best fish we have ever eaten. The fish has different tastes and textures depending on which part you choose. We especially are fond of the more gelatinous sections around the fins and tail. Seriously. Rich and Janel carefully pick out the cheeks and declare them to be the absolute pinnacle.
I am not sure if Batelina has ever seen a fish plate picked this clean. We totally devoured the beast (and the wine). I can’t help but notice that when our server shows another table the fresh fish platter to choose from there is NO MORE Scorpion Fish! We took the last (only?) one. It does pay to arrive early.
Would we care for dessert? What do you think? The dessert of Mascarpone with Figs soaked in red wine is almost as divine as the fish.
We almost close up the place – so glad we had an early reservation. It is almost midnight. What a day. We have come many miles both literally and figuratively. If this is Day One in Croatia we are in big trouble…