Mediterranean casual dining
June 2010. (By Jonathan Bastable)The June edition of Condé Nast Traveller includes a five page story about Dubrovnik and recommends the Hotel Excelsior, Hotel Bellevue, Villa Agave and the restaurant Nautika. The article was written by the eminent British journalist Jonathan Bastable who stayed in Dubrovnik in September 2009.
"Few cities in the world make such a memorable first impression, and as soon as you have caught a glimpse of Dubrovnik, you want to get up close and go inside."
"Dubrovnik is once again a chic destination and a celebrity magnet. Oprah Winfrey has been house-hunting on Stradun, the main street; Kevin Spacey recently celebrated his 50th birthday at Villa Agave, the extremely classy private annexe of the Hotel Excelsior; and film stars and musicians of all stripes can be spotted dining on the terrace at Nautika – for food and location combined, one of the finest restaurants in Europe. In 2008. Nautika was voted the sixth most romantic restaurant in the world. The food and the service are fabolous, and both terraces are wonderful places to sit in the cool of the evening. It is worth breaking the bank for."
May 2010. (By Michael Winner)Winner's Dinners: Dubrovnik - Not my choice of style, but a great destination
The old town is large, unspoilt. In spite of being warned of dreadful food I had a historic meal in Dubrovnik and two outside. Plus some shockers.
Hotel Excelsior is practical and it has outstanding location. The dining room seats 600 people; there are conference rooms, one for 500 delegates; it does a lot of Irish and Spanish weddings.
Our suite was superb. Enormous, nicely furnished, with a vast terrace and a stunning view of the sea and the old town. The hotel interior is well designed. A lot of fine rugs enliven the marble floors.
A great thing about Croatia is the people. They're immensely pleasant, smiling, willing. The bathroom was so complex you needed a 100-page instruction book. The taps resembled bollards with knobs on; the shower, a spaceship. Simplicity was not rampant. There's a fantastic dining terrace where I had my first hotel lunch.
The hotel owner, Goran Strok, and his wife, Renata, were supremely hospitable. They showed us round. If they didn't, Nikolina Vicelic (charming PR lady of the Excelsior hotel) and the delightful hotel manager, Jasna Durkovic, did. I suggest you visit Dubrovnik before it goes. New buildings are raising their hideous heads. It'll look like the Costa Brava soon. Now it has great atmosphere and architectural beauty beyond belief. We had a terrific meal in Nautika, by the walls of the old town. It's owned by a jolly local, Mato Durovic. The marinated scampi with goat's cheese were incredible, fresh from the Adriatic. The medallions of young veal, prosecco, sweet raisin and white wine sauce with a mousse of peas and potato cone, magnificent. Like the nearby castle on a rock, rising from the sea, where Daniel Day-Lewis performed Hamlet.
My dessert was "Torta od skorupa", described as cream cake with butter, eggs, almonds and lemon zest. Another triumph!
September 2009. High Life magazine (British Airways)Local ingredients cooked with homegrown flair make Dubrovnik a tasty destination for food lovers, as top London chef Mark Hix discovers on his first visit. For years now I'd been wanting to tick Croatia off my holiday list. Well, I say holiday, but my trip to Dubrovnik, on the Adriatic coast, was more like work – I had just two and a half days to check out the local restaurants,
food, culture and wine. It was a tight schedule but I took my rod and tackle with me just in case. You never know what's in store.
On my first day I checked into Dubrovnik's newly refurbished Excelsior hotel, which overlooks the sea and the island of Lokrum, and headed for a late lunch in the nearby Proto restaurant. I knew that the food in Croatia is Italianesque, although when I mentioned this to some of the locals they naturally replied that, on the contrary, Italian food is very much influenced by theirs. I didn't want to get into a heated discussion so I left it at that. I chose a plate of local Dalmatian ham, which was perfect and rather like a well-made Parma ham — oops! I followed with stewed octopus and polenta dyed by squid ink — simple and to the point. After lunch we went for a walk around Dubrovnik, a classic walled seaside town. Once you're inside there is not a car to be seen, just highly polished stone streets — I've never come across any as well-groomed and squeaky clean. The place feels like a film set, although there were a few too many souvenir shops for my taste. I did actually visit a couple of them, as a mate of mine collects fish-related objects. Nothing came home in my suitcase, though. Dinner was at Nautika restaurant. It's a great setting, with several terraces off the dining rooms on various levels. Our starter was cuttlefish risotto, again with good use of ink. Having it twice in one day was something of a record in my book but both were very good, even if the risotto did turn up with some odd blobs of something on the edge of the plate. I'm sure it wasn't part of the dish and it didn't make it taste any better than it already was. The next course was an unexpected joy, a whole salt-baked sea bass, perfectly cooked and thankfully with no frills. It was served with a commendable olive oil sauce made with an infusion of rosemary and thickened with egg yolks, rather like a hollandaise or mayonnaise. It was a perfect supper washed down with the local Posip white wine. Oysters were something that I didn't quite expect to be on the menu during this break but the next day we took a trip to Ston, about an hour away to the north on the Peljesac Peninsula, to spend the morning with an oyster fisherman on his boat. The oysters are not grown in beds as we see in the UK but on ropes like mussels, and they are the flat oyster variety, Ostrea edulis. The oysterman told us that they often get eaten by dorado that come into the estuary for a lazy supper. I was casting a lure in amongst the oyster ropes while he was telling me, so this got me slightly excited as you can imagine, but there was no joy.
We hopped straight off the boat into restaurant Kapetanova kuca and guess what arrived on our table as a starter? Yes, you've got it, black rice, but with mixed shellfish this time. We were on for a Guinness World Record here — three inky meals in a row! This one arrived presented in a conch shell and really did capture the taste of the sea. Those of you who haven't experienced ink rice dishes, don't be alarmed. It is a great local way to cook and here they do it really well. Next day we travelled south of Dubrovnik to the Gruda winery. After a tour of the vineyard we sat down for a bit of a tasting with some local cheeses. I've never actually seen a Croatian wine on a list anywhere in the UK – or anywhere else, come to that. We tasted a Plavac Mali, a 2006 mid-range wine, which would happily sit on my wine lists, then a Merlotina 2006, which was finished for 18 months in French oak and was the most expensive of all the wines. We moved on to a Cabernet Sauvignon Trajectum 2006, again superb. We could have been anywhere in the world tasting these great wines. I was slightly intrigued to try the local rosé, because all the locals seem to look down on the consumption of the pink stuff. I'm not sure why, because the surroundings and the sea and seafood make it a perfect match — if we were in Spain, it would be on every restaurant table. When we finally got round to tasting this one, made with the kadarun grape, there was nothing wrong with it at all. It had a great, slightly rusty colour, which I love, and a pleasant dryness. It was cheap, too. Lunch after the winery was one I was really looking forward to. It was at a country restaurant called Konavoski Dvori that specialises in lamb and veal cooked in the embers of an open fire under a peka, a traditional iron bell. You have to pass by the pots at the entrance to the restaurant so your taste buds are going before you've even sat down. The first thing I did was to get a bottle of rosé on the table. We started off with some local cured meats and soft polenta with braised snails, but the main show was the peka dish. I was hoping for it to come in big chunks on the bone but it was somewhat deconstructed, which was a shame, but it was very tasty indeed, especially with the sliced potatoes and onions that were cooked under the meat. We were firmly on the rosé and managed a second bottle (or was it a third?). We sat and watched the wild brown trout in the Ljuta river that runs right past the restaurant, although typically I'd left my fly rod back at the hotel. Award-winning chef Mark Hix has eponymous restaurants in Smithfield, London and Lyme Regis, Dorset. His most recent book, British Seasonal Food (£25, Quadrille) is out now.
WAY TO GO
British Airways flies to Dubrovnik from London Gatwick. Join the Executive Club and earn up to 2,135 BA Miles when you fly Club Europe to Dubrovnik.
March 2008.Restaurant Nautika, just outside the Pile Gate, is winning rave reviews for its seafood, as well as its priceless views from its cliffside terrace of historic fortifications and the Adriatic crashing at their base.
March 2008. (By Lexi Dwyer)And there's no better spot to reflect on your place in history than from Nautika's outdoor terrace.
Where: Restaurant Nautika, Dubrovnik
Why Go: in a city where views are currency (islands! boats! roofs!), this restaurant , overlooking a cove that's nicely insulated from the madding crowds, claims the most valuable panorama for itself. A Side of Atmosphere: The walled Old Town, whose streets have been buffed to a sheen from ten centuries' worth of visitors, feels like a museum come to life. And there's no better spot to reflect on your place in history than from Nautika's outdoor terrace: Two stone fortresses-elegant examples of the city's perfectly preserved medieval beauty – jut into the azure Adriatic, and every so often, a sailboat slices through the waves. Appetite for Seduction:You're staring at the sea, so ordering should be easy: Nautika specializes in seafood dishes that are specific to Dalmatian coast, like sea bass with squid-ink sauce or lobster medallions Korčula-style (served over greens and topped with local olive oil and vinegar.
Sunday, August 12, 2007. (By Kate Garraway)We found the perfect spot – Nautika, a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the town walls and the sea. It was so good we went three nights in a row.
September 2007, by Randy Johnson, editorOn a recent trip to Dubrovnik, I had lunch with former Croatian tourism minister Pave Zupan-Ruskovic, at the Nautika seafood restaurant, one of the best eateries in the city—and in Croatia. Overlooking a cliff- and rampart-ringed emerald cove...
August 2005, Henry Alford"In search of the latest Mediterranean hot spot? Henry Alford found it in the medieval city of Dubrovnik and on the gorgeous Dalmatian islands, he discovered a cultural and culinary wonderland." "
19.06.2005., Rene Bakalovic"From this year the NAUTIKA restaurant, in a cove protected by steep rocks and fortresses above the rooftops of small crowded houses in the fishermen's living quarters of the town by the name of Pile, has definitely become the address in the world, on the global map of luxury."
Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth and eighteen other ancient letters are lined up from left to right in versatile permutations, while the numerals are lined up from right to left. The Hebrew script has been written for the first time on the Menu in a Croatian restaurant. And this Menu is to undergo alterations every month. Along with Hebrew letters there are also Japanese characters, as well as six menus in other languages of the world. From this year the NAUTIKA restaurant, in a cove protected by steep rocks and fortresses above the rooftops of small crowded houses in the fishermen's living quarters of the town by the name of Pile, has definitely become the address in the world, on the global map of luxury. Already, before summer a place at the table on the terrace should be reserved during the morning hours. Should someone search for a table with the best view, certainly the table no. 35, then, it is advisable, to make reservation even couple of days ahead. Dishes cooked with asparagus and artichokes were the most sampled specialties before the summer season, the obligatory points of difference in this restaurant which rightly emphasize the seasonal flow of food-stuffs. One of the most pleasant surprises were the snails imbued with Dingač - Pelješac style. Fresh goat cheese with aromatic honey from Southern Dalmatia is an excellent local interpretation of traditional Italian practices. To serve aromatic cheese slices with cubes of honey-comb instead of some routine honey sauce is the masterminded spark of wit that singles out superior restaurants from those fair ones.
Prices are not the topic
Each new Menu brings the new thematic stories along with the change of the seasons of the year. In all this, the Master Chef Mr. Nikola Ivanišević tends to react to the grand renaissance of the top-level cultivation of olives in Croatia. He offers the best parts of the most esteemed fishes in the white and black emulsion. He succeeded in making his own coupage of the three selected kinds of olive oils and blended it with cuttlefish ink. Upon having a glass of Dubrovnik Malvasija as an aperitif and ending up tasting the enchanted domestic wormwood liqueuer-pelinkovac, made to the traditional family recipe, the folk cuisine provides a supplement for cuisine of the commoners, traditional and modern, fashionable cuisine: Fish Brodetto with Polenta from the Island of Lopud next to Caviar on Ice - Beluga Malossol. More red wine from Petrus castle is poured here than in any other restaurant in Croatia. And the prices, as the architects would say are not the topic any more. The relations of NAUTIKA are global in all segments, so that a portion of the top-level caviar at a price of 1280 kuna, instead of being a shocking one can be called appropriate. Food-stuffs, cooking presentation and serving are fully incorporated into the price, as well as a month's rent falling due for the premises attaining the 6 digits sum in kuna.
Elitism as a system
Luxury in the luxurious restaurants is dubious when misrepresented or superficial. In NAUTIKA, elitism is transformed into a system. The restaurant catering served His Holiness, the Pope with an air of equal self-confidence, as it hosted a thousand journalists, who had been invited by the Chevrolet Company (GM), before the season started. NAUTIKA is open all the year round, and has been almost fully booked for nine months during the year so far.
December 10th, 2004., Davor Butković"Nautika indeed is a high-class restaurant, with impeccable service, shining silver, elegant menus and wine-lists, and a very good / excellent food." "A brilliant dish: Tail of lobster medallions in Dingač wine sauce" Where Poseidon Sets a Bountiful Table
September 15th, 2004 (R. W. APPLE Jr.)WHEN I was asked this summer to lecture on a cruise along the Dalmatian coast, I accepted in a matter of minutes, having heard tales for years about its craggy beauty and captivating old cities, but I never dreamed that I would eat and drink well.
WHEN I was asked this summer to lecture on a cruise along the Dalmatian coast, I accepted in a matter of minutes, having heard tales for years about its craggy beauty and captivating old cities, but I never dreamed that I would eat and drink well.
I guess I should have known better. Two of the most estimable fish restaurants in the United States, Uglesich's in New Orleans and Tadich's in San Francisco, now run by the Buich family, have Dalmatia in their DNA. I recall now that Dr. Ernesto Illy, the coffee king, once told me over dinner in Trieste, his base of operations, that the fish and shellfish on the Croatian side of the Adriatic Sea, where the bottom is mainly rocky, were better than those on the Italian side, where it tends to be muddier.
Many Italians would no doubt disagree. Yet restaurateurs in Venice and in Puglia confess that some of the best fish that Italian boats bring into local ports are caught off Croatia, especially scampi (or langoustines) and branzino (or sea bass), but also sea scallops and monkfish. "The quality of their fish is really astonishing," said Cesare Benelli, the exacting owner of Al Covo, one of Venice's finest seafood trattorias.
My wife, Betsey, and I couldn't agree more after sampling Dalmatian fish and shellfish, less thoroughly than we would have liked but adequately enough to judge how pristine, clear of taste and skillfully cooked it can be. As in Venice, which ruled much of the region for centuries, plenty of pasty risotto and overcooked squid is on offer in Croatia. In Dubrovnik an entire street, Prijeko, is lined with restaurants whose staff members stand outside, noisily touting their indifferent food. Again as in Venice, the best dishes are the simplest; ventures into creativity and complexity often end in fiascoes.
But restaurants like Proto — a few steps off Dubrovnik's pedestrian-only main drag, whose limestone paving blocks have been polished to a high gloss by hundreds of thousands of feet — buy the best and know just what to do with it. We were stunned by the sweet, magically tender shrimp, cooked on a wooden skewer, and the ruddy scampi, which were so plump they could almost have passed for baby lobsters.
They were rockets of flavor intensity that scored direct hits with us both. The young waiter told us why: "They were alive when they came in this morning — two or three minutes on the grill, depending on size, and this is it."
Our lunch at Proto was one of those meals where everything worked perfectly. Our table, covered with a sea-blue cloth, was shielded from the fierce midday sun by an awning and cooled by a fresh breeze. I am not much of a fish salad fan, but my starter was exemplary — a mixture of delicately flavored baby octopus, succulent little mussels, chopped red onion, ripe tomatoes, fleshy black olives and round, wonderfully juicy Mediterranean capers. Betsey's shrimp came with a mound of saffron rice, every grain distinct and slightly crunchy, and a salad of tart rocket dressed with oil from Korcula.
The espresso, with a perfect head of crema, would have pleased Dr. Illy, and it went very nicely, I thought, with a slug of slivovitz, the local plum eau-de-vie. Well, not exactly local; I thought I detected a note of regret in the waiter's voice as he took the order, and then I realized that slivovitz is Serbian, not Croatian. The last time I had been in these parts, the rival countries were both part of Yugoslavia.
After decades of rule by Marshal Tito and his Communist brethren and years of internecine warfare, all Croatia is springing back to life. In Dalmatia, encompassing the strip of land along the Adriatic coast and the 1,000-odd offshore islands, fruit, vegetables and fish are piled high in outdoor markets. The tall, handsome Dalmatians are stylishly turned out. And the tourists, absent for so long, are beginning to return.
Croatia may still be terra incognita to most Americans, but not to Europeans, who have watched a strapping Croatian tennis player, Goran Ivanisevic, win the Wimbledon singles title in 2001, and the Croatian soccer team battle mighty France to a draw in the European championships this year.
Lured by the unpolluted, too-blue-to-be-true waters, the coruscating light and the scent of lemon trees and cypresses, celebrities, including Sean Connery, Andre Agassi and Gwyneth Paltrow, have discovered the island of Hvar, which is carpeted with wild lavender; the island of Korcula, a miniature Venice where Marco Polo may or may not have been born, and of course this ancient, golden city, of which George Bernard Shaw once said, "Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik."
The London newspapers have taken to describing the Dalmatian coast as "the new Côte d'Azur" and Dubrovnik as "the new St.-Tropez." To an American eye it looks much more like Maine — with rather more hours of sunshine, of course, and a lot more Romanesque and Gothic and Renaissance architecture, but precisely the same sort of pine-clad mountains and islands.
A big group from the cruise ship assembled for dinner one night at Proto's sister restaurant, Atlas Club Nautika. They put us at a long table on a terrace overlooking the sea, with a moonlit view of the Bokar fortress, one of the 15th-century bastions in the old city's massive, remarkably intact encircling walls. The langoustines were luscious again, if slightly smaller, and the proprietor brought out a silver tray with an array of glistening fish, dominated by a huge bream.
But the oysters and mussels from farms near the village of Mali Ston at the base of the long, majestic Peljesac peninsula, northwest of Dubrovnik, seldom disappoint. Nor does Croatian street food, some of it familiar in neighboring countries in southeast Europe, like burek, a flaky pastry filled with cheese, delicious when fresh and hot, a gooey mess when not. Little grills set up in alleys and on street corners dispense raznjici, which are small kebabs, and thumb-size skinless sausages called cevapcici, made from pork, lamb or veal, or a blend, and bright with paprika, onions and garlic.
Italy has left its mark as well, with a spicy fish stew called brodet, not unlike the famous brodetto of Ancona, the risottos of Venice, the pizzas of Naples and especially prsut (the word is pronounced pur-SHOOT, which gives you some idea what it is: a local variety of prosciutto). Prsut is a smoked ham that is home-cured in the bora, a dry winter wind that blows from the mountains through passes down to the sea.
And as Rebecca West remarks in her monumental travel book, "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon," first published in 1941, people in this part of the Balkan peninsula "cook lamb and suckling-pig as well as anywhere in the world," especially in the hills behind the coast, where sage, thyme and basil grow in lush, perfumed profusion.
What to drink with all this? Croatian wine, once celebrated, is staging a comeback, too, with a Dalmatian-American named Mike Grgich leading the charge. He immigrated to the United States in 1958, he likes to say, "to escape the Communists and find freedom." Settling in the Napa Valley, he made the 1973 Chateau Montelena that famously outshone white Burgundies at a Paris tasting, then founded Grgich Hills Cellar in Rutherford, where he continues to produce top-rated reds and whites.
In 1996 he revisited his homeland, re-adopted his Dalmatian name, Miljenko Grgic, and founded a winery called Vina Grgic, near Trstenik on the rocky Peljesac peninsula. It is the first air-conditioned winery in Croatia and the first to use French barrels. Semiretired, he spends two months a year in Croatia, producing two wines we drank with great pleasure: Posip, a crisp, chalky, flowery white made from the same grape as Hungary's furmint, and Plavac Mali, a dense, chewy red, full of pepper and blackberry notes, which is a cousin of California's zinfandel.
Although the Vina Grgic wines are costly, Croatia is proud of them. We found them featured on the lists at both of the top Dubrovnik restaurants, and you can drink Grgic Posip with the local oysters at Villa Koruna in Mali Ston. Most days Grgic wines appear at other ambitious restaurants, like Adio Mare, on Korcula, known for its grilled freshly caught octopus; Macondo, in an alley near the central square in Hvar, with a dandy seafood pâté; and Baban, in Split, a modern city that grew up in and around the palace that the Roman Emperor Diocletian built in the third century A.D.
It may be true, as Ms. West wrote, that "this coast feeds people with other things than food," like glorious art and history. But the food's not so bad either.