Croatia trip report

We recently traveled to Croatia, flying into Zagreb, then driving to Istria, down through Zadar, and then flying out of Split. Here are some of the more memorable and recommendable food stops.

Overall impressions: almost everywhere accepted credit cards (minus Toklarija on my list) and food was overall good quality, quite hearty and affordable. Cappuccino index: most expensive was 16 kuna ($2.40) at a church terrace in Zadar; cheapest was 8 kuna ($1.20) outside the mummy church of Vodnjan.

ZAGREB
Vinodol was probably the most chic place we visited on our trip, with an airy semi-covered terrace, well-spaced tables and elegantly presented dishes. I was excited to try strukli, the northern Croatian specialty of parcels of cheese boiled or baked (listed on the menu as “homemade pastry dough stuffed with cottage cheese.”) It reminded me of a larger, thicker Polish pierogi, stuffed with what I’d call farmer’s cheese. Our server recommended baked; the crisp texture of the top ridges was a nice counterpoint to the mild cheese. I liked Vinodol’s non-alcoholic house-made drink syrups; I tried elderflower but also eyed sage and lemon.

Croatian Design Superstore, which is a small shop of Croatia-produced modern design, has a small cafe with good coffee. This was a nice stop when exploring the galleries and shops along Marticeva.

VODNJAN
Known locally for a climate that produces exceptional olive oils, this small town has many tasting rooms and a couple of very low-key terraces to enjoy a coffee or sparkling water. Also, there are mummies in the church.

MOTOVUN AREA
Mondo Konoba’s tiny interior was warm and welcoming during a rain shower. Probably every restaurant in this region has the fuzi pasta with truffle dish, but that didn’t stop me from liking it here.

Toklarija is probably one of the top dining experiences of my life. Set in a former olive oil mill, this is a father-son operation with a terrace for outdoor dining in summer (we were provided blankets and bug spay to use as appropriate). Both flavors and presentation were extraordinary; most of the elements are sourced from the village and immediate countryside. On offer that night was a six course menu; no a la carte option. It’s hard to select a favorite course because I remember the individual elements so distinctly but also thought the menu felt cohesive. Portions were sized really well – after six courses, I felt full but not butter-stuffed and ready for the vomitorium (as I did after the French Laundry). Highlights: gorgeous hunks of melon, risotto with herbs the server picked from the garden between courses, a souffle served with a red-wine sabayon. Wines are from Roxanich, a nearby vineyard. We paid 1,800 kuna (about $270) for four people, including wine and cover charge. I’d go back in a minute, but I’d probably recommend lunch over dinner given that the meal is relaxed and the mountain road navigation required to arrive here is probably best done in daylight.

PULA
Farabuto was a friend’s pick, and while I liked the food, I think the out-of-the-way location (within a housing development outside of the centre of town) didn’t recommend it for a short trip. Extensive seafood menu. I had a white fish en papillote, which was tender but not packed with enough flavor. Husband really liked his grilled tuna rolled in sesame.

PLITVICE PARK
Pack your own food. This park was the culinary low point of our trip; everywhere we ate was truly abysmal – greasy, charred, awful – but also really expensive. Imagine a barbecue in hell. Go to the grocery store and get everything you need. (There’s a Konzum grocery store along the main road into the park.)

KRKA NATIONAL PARK
Slightly better than Plitvice in that at least you’re not staying within the park, trapped, hungry, willing to pay $20 for a cheese sandwich. The concessions looked OK. I saw people eating squid and whole grilled fish with fries and ajvar. There are crepe stands serving decent palacinke (Croatian pancakes) with jam, honey or chocolate sauce.

SPLIT
Paradox Food + Wine Bar serves charcuterie, cheese plates and a few other small plates along with an extensive by-the-glass and by-the-bottle wine list. Our server was super knowledgeable and helpful with selecting obscure Croatian wines we couldn’t find elsewhere.

Zinfandel’s burger (lunch menu only) is worth seeking out – when did aioli, swiss cheese, and caramelized onions ever have it so good? Really liked the steak salad (listed as appetizer, big enough to eat as a main) as well.

Olive Oil Tour of Split. Fantastic, would highly recommend it. Our guide was opinionated, funny and well versed in the history of both wine and olive oil. We visited an old water mill where the current owner’s family have worked for 200 years. (The bread they make from their fresh-milled flour was the best I had in Croatia; a lot of what we ate was supermarket bakery style, with a spongy, snow-colored crumb and thin crust.) Fantastic veal peka for lunch. Not cheap, but worth it as a splurge for a day’s adventure.

8 Likes

Thanks for the report. I haven’t been to Croatia since before the war–1988, to be exact–so it’s interesting to hear what it’s like now.

When we were in Zagreb we ate at what was, at the time, described as the only vegetarian restaurant in Yugoslavia. What made it “vegetarian” was that, in a 6-page menu, there was an entire page of dishes without meat. :wink:

(My fondest food memories from that trip were not actually in Croatia, though. Bureki from street vendors in Sarajavo, and garlic-sauteed squid with fries at a bar in Kotor–that’s what I remember.)

2 Likes

That’s hilarious and very interesting – thanks for sharing.

We had a good chat with our olive oil guide about the huge change that came to the olive oil industry during the socialist era and how the Croatian EVOO industry is still rebuilding – apparently, the fiddly and small-scale nature of oil production wasn’t seen as a good investment by economic planners, so olive farmers were redirected to factory jobs. They still don’t produce enough oil today to match consumption needs within the country – although the production was quashed, the taste for oil (and use within traditional cooking) couldn’t be.

1 Like

That’s very interesting. I bet the food overall is much better today than when I was there (though we did eat pretty well, as I recall).

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold