Category Archives: Food

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CROATIAN RESTAURANTS: CUISINE AND WINES (PART 1)

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Seafood. That pretty much sums up what Croatia cuisine is for me.
Well, I think they have meats and exotic dishes like rats, wild boar, and other game, but we never experienced them, and even if it were available, I limit myself to seafood. So, seafood it is.

Let’s start with their cheese. The most famous of Croatia’s cheese is called “Pag” cheese as it comes from the island of Pag. In Croatian, it is called “Paški sir.” It comes from sheep, and it is somewhat hard but perfect to start or end one’s meal. The cheese comes from a specific breed of sheep called Paska Ovka found mostly on the island of Pag. The interesting thing about Croatian cheese is that animal rennet is not allowed in the cheese making in the country. Only microbial rennet is allowed, thereby making Paški sir technical a vegetarian cheese.

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As the main courses are seafood, the appropriate wine was naturally white. We had the Malvasjia variety most of the time, but occasionally we had the Grašvinja as well. Both wines are dry and fresh and perfect companions to the sweet, fresh grilled delights from the sea.

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Foremost among the seafood favorites is the sea bass. Although sea bass is now farmed in Croatia, sometimes you can get lucky with one that is fished from the sea. We were lucky to have this in Slovenia in a restaurant called Wine Bar and Restaurant Sova. Located along the shores of the Lake Bled, it is an excellent place to have a quiet meal with best Slovenian and Croatian wines of the region. The owners are hospitable and very helpful. Although we got in a bit late, as soon as a table with the lake view became vacant, they came over and offered to transfer us to this table with a scenic view.

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A word of warning though regarding terms like “for one” or “for two” in menus in restaurants. For the Asian stomach, always multiply these numbers by two. This is true for most of Europe, I guess. Second, if the restaurant has an English menu or, worse a multi-lingual one (with flags to boot), you can be sure the restaurant is frequented by tourists. The implication, of course, is that the price are likely to be higher than it should be. Take that as a given and just order what you want and forget about converting to your own currencies.

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In this regard, I have always wondered whether finding a good local authentic restaurant where locals go is like chasing rainbows. The more a place gets noticed in various fora, the more tourists go, the higher the prices go, and the more locals stay away from these restaurants. In the end, there is only the restaurant that has excellent cuisine and excellent service where only tourists go. What a conundrum!

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We went to a restaurant in Ljubljana, Slovenia. While it is not Croatia, allow me some leeway. The restaurant is called “Luda.” They have two set menus: a 5-course menu for €34 and 3-course one for €22. Excellent execution, this is a gem just off the tourist area of Ljubljana.

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The wines of Croatia are certainly world class. I do not want to describe the different varieties found here but what has been established is that the Zinfandel grapes of California originated here. According to Wikipedia, “DNA analysis has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia (the “heel” of Italy), where it was introduced in the 18th century.[2] The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of the name ‘Zinfandel,’ a name which is probably of Austrian origin.”

My favorite was Malvasjia. Fresh and cool and dry, Malvasjia is perfect with the Croatian seafood cuisine. I enjoyed it most with the fresh mussels and oysters we had in Mali Ston. Out in a floating platform, our host pulled out the oysters from the sea, opened it, and with just a dash of lemon, slurped it up and concluded with a sip of Malvasjia wine. Everything just fresh!

One of the places we visited was Restaurant Beom in Portoroz, Slovenia (Belokrishka cesta 68, Portoroz 6320 Slovenia). As we were traveling from Slovenia on our way to Rovinj, We had lunch along the way, at this restaurant owned by a couple who are friends with Jerry, our guide.

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The restaurant has an unassuming facade. When Jerry’s friends, Nena and Marita started whipping their dishes, it felt like we were in a Michelin restaurant. The couple had an excellent local pasta which I remembered was just called “Istrian” pasta. The family had sea bass, John Dory, calamari and mussels. All these wonderful seafood were partaken with a Batic Malvasjia 2016. Truly refreshing lunch. And to cap the lunch, Marita went out of her way to get the famous cream cake done by a local baker. Zizola, a digestif, made sure our lunch was complete!

One of the highlights in our culinary agenda was the dinner at Monte, probably the only One-Star Michelin restaurant in Croatia. The experience we had there was almost like being in a theater. The movements of the staff were flawless, precise and the dishes were presented creatively. As we weren’t hungry when we went to the restaurant, we didn’t do the 5 or 7-course menu. I started with the risotto with shrimps. The shrimp was so fresh; it literally melted in my mouth. For my main dish, I had the monkfish in olive oil. With the local cava to accompany our meal, it was just heavenly.

Monte is located on Montalbano 75, Rovinj.

The restaurant I loved most in Rovinj though was Snack Bar Rio. Located along Obala Alda Rismonda – Riva Aldo Rismondo 13 in Rovinj. This is a long time favorite even of locals. Service here is very friendly, and one feels at home almost immediately. Seafood is king here. I had their tuna steak while my two sons swear by their mussels. My wife had seafood kebab which, according to her was the best she has ever had and the most creative way of cooking seafood.

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For the wine, the restaurant has a special relationship with a local vineyard/winery. We had their Malvasjia Rio Puntulina, which was excellent when paired with the seafood.

Because Rovinj is a tourist destination, one will never be short of choices for restaurants. Really, the question as I have asked earlier is how do you find one that gives you value for your money. And that value comes in three ways: the food, of course, then the service, and then the cost of these two wrapped around the ambiance. The ambiance for me becomes only important when experienced with the food and the service.

At this point, we were just halfway through our trip. So I still have quite a number of restaurants to talk about. On one hand, while this trip was very taxing, I thoroughly enjoyed the trips to the restaurants, the tasting of the wines, and the company of the people you love in this world.

Until next time…

RESTAURANT REVIEWS: MACTAN, CEBU

I have been reviewing restaurants for a number of years now. TripAdvisor ranks me high among their contributors. I use a pseudonym in TripAdvisor although I believe this is not really necessary when I travel abroad. However when I am in the country, it helps to be anonymous when I write about restaurants and hotels. Just recently I was in Cebu and I have these to say about a number of restaurants I visited.

The Cowrie Cove at Mactan Shangri La

Their happy hour is “buy one take one.” And it’s from 5-7 PM. After that they have DJ music.As a Shangrila outlet the bar pulls no stops to offer the best only a Shangrila can offer. So you can order almost anything you want. The appetizers are a bit limiting though. And at P500, their “kinilaw” is a bit too high considering the serving is very small.But with beautiful people around, a nice night view of the shoreline and especially on a moonlit night, allow yourself to chill a bit in this piece of expensive heaven.

The Oriental Spice Gourmet

First, Mary Ann, the wife of the Chef-owner Cyril looks after what you want and need. We were going to be a group of 30 and she went through the menu with us, the host. We discussed the variety as well as the number of dishes as well as how much spice to put in the dishes. Her advise and suggestion was perfect. There was hardly any food left. And we enjoyed the meal at a cost that was one of the most reasonable I had ever paid.

The dishes served were excellent. It was, of course, less spicy than what it would have been, but still the dishes were really good. Topping among the dishes were we was the fish sambal. Make sure you make this as a priority to order. Second is the nasi goreng, or fried rice. This ensures that anyone on a diet will breaking his/her diet. My suggestion to them will be to stick to the authentic taste and “spiciness” of the dishes. My mistake was to ask them to hold back on this “spiciness.” So the curry lacked the kick I was looking for.

The restaurant has no wines. I didn’t ask but maybe one can bring some rieslings to match the Asian dishes. This was the only missing ingredient in what is probably one of the best Asian food restaurant in the country.

If you come to Cebu, go straight to this restaurant as soon as you land, or before you leave. This is a, definitely, a must-visit restaurant in Cebu.

These are only two of the many places I went to in Cebu the last two weeks. More of my reviews to come.

In the meantime, here’s a good read on innovations in restaurants:

Innovation in Restaurant Design

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here…I hope I will have more time to dabble in more interesting things in life.

CALÇOT – A NEW CULINARY FIND!

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Holy Thursday found us driving through the Prades mountains on the way to Barcelona. As we left the scenic routes of the Prades mountains, driving from the Monastery of Poblet to Suria through the calcerous mountains of Prades, we went though the village of Valls. Now this area is know for calçots, a kind of spring onion, which until then we knew nothing about. I did watch an espisode of Anthony Bourdain depicting an afternoon of eating calçots, but I had no idea what it was nor what it tasted like.  Until this Holy Thursday.

With my friends Calvin and Pata Genotiva, my wife Joy and I had finally a taste of the famous Catalan spring Oinion called calçot.  By itself and with the romanesque sauce it is good, in fact, excellent!  But knowing the history and the cultural perspective of calçot made it even more interesting. Calvin and Pata did manage to have their meats, I was stuck with my bacalao. But definitely I want to go back to this place next time between November and April.Here’s more about calçots: http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/barcelona/2013/calcots/

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Italian Cuisine and Sexy Vespas

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After almost a week of enjoying the delectable Vietnamese cuisine, we decided to settle for a more mundane cuisine of the West – Italian. We found this place almost by accident. We had just crossed the street from the Legend Metropole Hanoi when the presence of a Vespa in the lawn caught our attention and we saw a big sign: “Casa Italia.” Upon closer inspection, we discovered it was an office of the Italian Embassy’s cultural section and Casa Italia is its restaurant!

The Vespa was born in April 1946 and launched by Enrico Piaggio one of the two sons of a major Italian industrialist Rinaldo Piaggio. The older Piaggio was a major aircraft manufacturer who contributed to Italy’s world War II efforts. It was no wonder then his factories were bombed by the Allies during the war. So Enrico had to build a new company from the ashes. He decided to focus on personal mobility and together with a former aeronautical engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio, he built his company on the first prototype originally based on Donald Duck! However, when D’Ascanio showed him the actual prototype, he exclaimed: “Sembra una vespa!” – “it looks like a wasp!” And thus Vespa was born.

Indeed, the Vespas on display at Casa Italia were sexy, the kind one would like to take home. But the service of the restaurant was great as well. And the pizzas and pastas were as authentic as they can get. “Authentic” because one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between their dishes and those that one would have in Italy. Try their gnocchi – it’s unforgettable. They also have a modest but good wine selection.

A must if you want Italian cuisine in Hanoi.

Veggie Persian Burger by Good Burgers

Persian Burger by Good Burgers (Vegetarian)

It’s sinful and it’s vegetarian. That’s what you get when you order the “Best” Persian Burger from Good Burgers. The whopper of a burger has two veggie patties and all the old spices that came out from old Persia!

Since I lost 48 pounds, I have been trying to maintain my diet so I keep to my 34″ waistline and 80 kilos weight. So whenever possible I eat only vegetables with occasional fish dishes. That’s not too hard to keep in Manila as there are quite a few vegetarian establishments in the metropolis.

A full meal. Good Burgers' persian Burger has 2 veggy patties to make sure you're satisfied.
A full meal. Good Burgers’ persian Burger has 2 veggy patties to make sure you’re satisfied.

One of the best I found is Good Burgers. They have three outlets: Maginhawa St. in Quezon City; Kapitolyo in Pasig; and one in C5 across SM Hypermarket. Their menu has about 7-8 different burger concoctions with either chicken or vegetarian patties. Their relishes are really sinful and their “Best” option with two patties is good enough for a full meal. They take orders or for a minimum of P300 per order, they can deliver to your home or office.

I have brought high level corporate personalities to these joints. Albeit without air-condition, they have enough electric fans to keep the heat down so business discussions can go unhampered. Most of the time though we order to our business lunches in the office. And it seems one of my colleagues has now taken a liking for veggie burgers. It keeps you in shape and it’s just as good as the real thing. In fact now I wonder which one should be considered the “real” thing!

I won’t debate with burger purists that the real thing is still the best. But if you must move on to a vegetarian diet, start visiting the Good Burger.

Their addresses:
162 Maginhawa‎ Metro Manila‎ Quezon City, telephone: (02) 435 4663
22 West Capitol Drive‎ Barangay Kapitolyo‎ Pasig City, telephone: (02) 636 4663
106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, C5 Road‎ Pasig City, telephone: (02) 671 4242