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Best restaurant in Croatia

I don't remember exactly which wines I had but two were from Istria and one was from the South of Croatia down towards Split.

Keep in mind that LM is located in Volosko next to Opatia. Valsabbion is the Restaurant in Pula. Both are worth a trip though. They're fantastic.

If you have Celiac, I would recommend the Fritaja as a main course. Truffle foam with ham and scampi. Easily one of the most incredible things I've ever eaten and it's their signature dish.

Aug 10, 2011
PirateCPA in Europe

Best restaurant in Croatia

I recently had the priviledge of dining at what is considered to be one of the best, if not the best restaurant in Croatia. "Le Mandrac". It's in direct competition with Valsabbion in Pula and having eaten at both I can say that Le Mandrac definitely wins in the food category.

I opted for the full tasting menu with wine pairings which clocked in at around $130 for one person. Incredibly good value for money considering what you get to eat.

I started with a sparkling blended wine from Istria that was sweet and set the tone for the meal. Next the waiter brought three types of salt, including pink afghan salt, and three types of pepper, including my favorite pepper from China to the table along with Istrian olive oil for our bread (you get four choices of bread, I recommend the olive bread).

I started with a single scampi in scampi sauce. It's just one bite but it's the perfect first course in a country famous for it's seafood.

Next was a cake-batter seafood tempura that was light and delicious.

Then a pickled tuna tartare followed with a very light pea soup that had a delicious slice of the most tender bacon hovering just below the surface.

Sea bass with lemon sauce followed next and was a setup for the highlight of the meal. The Fritaja.

Le Mandrac is known for their signature dish, which looks like a sunny-side up egg but is actually comprised of truffle foam, scampi, prosciutto, and grated truffles. In a word... divine. It's worth the trip to the restaurant just for this one dish. It's probably one of the best things I've ever eaten in my entire life and I could eat it every day for the rest of my life. While that was the highlight, it certainly wasn't the end.

I also received a tuna tataki served three ways and the meal capped with a delicate foie gras served over fig chutney. The foie gras and chutney perfectly complemented each other and this dish was a knockout.

My dessert course featured a citrus tart, a fruit "slushee", a chocolate tower with butterscotch and some warm ice cream with berry sauce.

In all, a truly spectacular meal for 1/3 of what you would pay in Western Europe or the States.

If you're ever in the region, this is worth a trip. Dinner for two (my dining partner opted for a delicious octopus salad instead of the degustation menu) came to 1,000 kunas even (about $200 for two).

The restaurant is easy to find as well. Just head to Opatija on the main road connecting from Rijeka and stop after the first big turn in the road (almost 90 degrees). You'll see signs for "Volosko" which point down towards the water.

Head down the road and continue all the way until the road terminates at a marina. Le Mandrac lies right behind the Marina and has a glass "cube" for an outdoor dining terrace.

In comparison to the other high end restaurant Valsabbion I'll say this. Le Mandrac has an exquisite variety in the flavors you experience and I feel that the food is better tasting and more interesting (but Valsabbion is no slouch, the food is excellent). Valsabbion wins in the service and timing department however. My dinner there was expertly timed with each course arriving exactly when I thought it should and they have a wait staff that is unrivaled.

The Le Mandrac kitchen, while being better, suffers from under-staffing. We only had one waiter who was a true professional, but he was stretched far too thin over the entire dining room, which led to a few delays in the meal because he simply had too many tables to cover. At one point we saw some of the kitchen staff come out to bus tables because it was so busy.

That is a MINOR MINOR observation though. The food at Le Mandrac is spectacular. The ambiance is wonderful, the scenery can't be beat, and the prices give you exceptional value for getting huge portions of truffles, foie gras, and the best wine Croatia has to offer.

Definitely a must if you're into food.

Aug 07, 2011
PirateCPA in Europe

4 nights in Istria - best (high end) restaurant?

I recently dined here before the big summer rush of 2011 and I can say it's worth the price. I splurged for the 13 course tasting menu and coffee and the meal clocked in at around 3 hours and $170 per person which was exceptionally reasonable (A normal tasting menu is ~100 USD, with 5 wine pairings it's ~150 USD.)

The dinner consisted of:

1) Champagne starter - a full glass of Croatian sparkling wine which I can say is one of the best I've ever tasted. It was crisp, delicious, and very subtle.

2) Olive course served in cocktail glasses, consisting of a tapenade (my favorite of the three, absolutely bursting with fresh olive flavor), a warm and exceptionally light virgin oil from the region, and a "cream of olive" which was like tasting a rich earthy butter. It went very well with the homemade olive bread and cauliflower bread served with the dish.

3) Minced crab served with "sauce of internal crab organ" as the waiter said, roe, powdered parsely, and sea salt. All ingredients were brought in separate dishes and combined in a shaker at my table and prepared before me. Absolutely fresh crab meat. It (and all of the other seafood dishes) tasted like they came directly from the deep ocean. Exceptional quality. My only complaint of the evening was with this dish. As great as it was I found a few small pieces of shell in the mix, which is a no for very high end, but it was delicious.

4) A sweeter Istrian wine was brought to be paired with the next few dishes, I was brought a single scampi cooked absolutely perfectly, then dipped in liquid nitrogen and rolled in rough sea salt. The scampi was then dipped into a boiling hot rum and herb sauce and served. It was a single bite... but what a bite. Light and flavorful, full of herbs and the deep ocean. It was extravagant.

5) Minced scallop (also fresh and perfectly cooked) served on a bed of warm cauliflower pate and rough cut raw cauliflower. You can tell that this restaurant relies heavily (heck, exclusively) on local and seasonal ingredients. Nearly everything I was served was very light Mediterranean food elevated to haute cuisine. It was a very hot day and having light and balanced flavors with their superb wine was heaven.

6) "Soup from the stones of the sea" - A test tube of dehydrated soup and powdered stone was brought to my table and mixed right before me with boiling water to create a small and delicate soup. This was delicious seafood broth and the presentation was quite novel.

7) A dry Croatian chardonnay was brought for my next dish which was an octopus roll. Quite possibly the best octopus I've ever eaten. Rolled in a batter made partially from octopus it was exploding with Mediterranean flavor (think olives and the sea). It was rich, warm, and unlike most octopus and squid dishes, not rubbery. Exquisite and tender and easily my favorite course of the evening.

8) "Seafood sausage" - A single sausage link made from three types of fresh caught fish. I have no idea how they combined the fish into such a perfect item but this was a rich and flavorful course with light but satisfying spice and just a hint of fresh seafood. It was served with an astoundingly good warm spinach puree sauce. They managed to capture the fresh spinach flavor and remove the grassy aftertaste that you can get with cooked spinach. I could have eaten the sauce just on it's own.

9) A very bright and light Sauvignon Blanc was brought for the next dishes. Next course was filet of sardine served with vegetable sauce and filet of sardine in squid ink served with sardine sauce. A fantastic preparation which includes your (white gloved) waiter adding the sauces from paint tubes at your table. The squid ink filet was my favorite of the two and was warm, rich, and had just a hint of grilled crunch.

10) Tuna with shredded vegetable (served in a small filet) with a very thin layer of pounded monkfish on top. All served over a bed of cauliflower pate. Very light. Not my favorite dish of the evening but satisfying and fresh none the less.

11) A Croatian red is brought for my meat dish which consisted of veal cutlets and gravy topped with an egg white/marshmallow filet. The filet on top was not at all sweet and complemented the veal very nicely. The veal was perfectly cooked and presented a hearty and well rounded finish to the meal.

12) An incredibly good (but not sugary) dessert wine was brought for my dessert. "Interpretation of Tiramisu". A single sphere of Tiramisu rests on a bed of nuts and coffee and the waiter injects the Marscapone into the sphere at your table. Served with lingonberries and chocolate sauce, this was a fantastic dessert.

13) The final dessert (with coffee after) was a piece of chocolate with orange rind, two coconut vanilla morsels and a praline cluster with lingonberries served on a marble slab. Three more great bites to end the night.

14) Coffee and time to relax while the sun started to set.

All in all a truly exceptional meal. What sets Valsabbion apart however is the skill with which the wines are paired to the food. I've never had better wine pairings. Everything fit perfectly and the wine was of a quality I've almost never experienced. It was astonishing how good the wine was. I could actually tell which flavors would be featured in my next dishes based on the wine they would bring.

I can also say that the service was also probably the best I've received at any restaurant. Every course was perfectly timed so as not to rush the meal. It was a perfect pace with perfect presentation and absolutely flawless service. It's a service you simply can't experience outside of a restaurant that isn't holding one or more Michelin stars. Major kudos in this department.

My only critique would be that I would have like to have seen more flavor variation. The seafood was all flawlessly executed and of perfect quality but it felt like the menu played it a bit safe. The octopus and sausage were my favorite courses because that's where the kitchen played with flavor and strayed the most from traditional regional flavor combinations. But don't let that deter you. The food is wonderful and matches up perfectly with a hot summer day.

Jun 17, 2011
PirateCPA in Europe