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Best restaurant in Croatia

p
PirateCPA Aug 7, 2011 04:19 PM

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.

 
 
 
 
  1. myturkishjoys Aug 9, 2011 05:29 AM

    Wow! This restaurant sounds wonderful! My husband and I have been looking at visiting Croatia since we are living....at least close enough over in Istanbul. I hope we can make it over there. Thanks for the tip and nice write up!

    1. chefathome Aug 9, 2011 07:01 PM

      Awesome review! We own a house in Croatia (only half an hour from Pula). We have not yet been to Le Mandrac yet but it is on our list when we are there in eight weeks. I have celiac disease so must avoid gluten at all costs - it seems high end restaurants are fairly knowledgable about this (hopefully this is true of LM). Thanks for posting this!

      Do you recall what wine you had? We have grown to know several local producers there. Thanks!

      2 Replies
      1. re: chefathome
        p
        PirateCPA Aug 10, 2011 02:41 AM

        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.

        1. re: PirateCPA
          chefathome Aug 11, 2011 01:58 PM

          Yes - I know Opatija and area and have been to Valsabbion in Pula - my kind of place. The Fritaja sounds absolutely sublime and cannot wait to try it soon. We are SO fortunate to be situated in such a gorgeous area with access to wonderful ingredients, restaurants and products there!

      2. a
        Aishling Aug 11, 2011 06:04 AM

        Hi Pirate, thanks for the wonderful review. We went to Le Mandrac in July and thoroughly enjoyed the exploring menu with great matching wines (Trapan wine was one that stood out) This was our second time there, and because they consistently serve flavoursome interesting food in a beautiful setting, it is our favourite Croatian restaurant.
        We have also enjoyed good food at Valsabbion, and although we are not afraid to try new things, we found it to be a little too experimental for us.
        Hi Chef, we are back to Croatia in October and plan to go to Le Mandrac again, maybe even see you there.

        -----
        Le Mandrac
        Volosko, Opatija, Primorje-Gorski kotar , HR

        1 Reply
        1. re: Aishling
          chefathome Aug 11, 2011 01:55 PM

          Awesome! If you hear a patron speaking to the staff about celiac restrictions come on over and say hi! :-)

        2. h
          hungry.schatzi Aug 12, 2011 09:36 AM

          Le Mandrac is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, and definitely my favorite restaurant in Croatia. So happy to hear that you enjoyed it!

          -----
          Le Mandrac
          Volosko, Opatija, Primorje-Gorski kotar , HR

          7 Replies
          1. re: hungry.schatzi
            a
            Aishling Apr 3, 2012 09:33 AM

            It's a shame that Valsabbion is no longer in business, always felt their food was aimed at higher end diners.

            1. re: Aishling
              chefathome Apr 3, 2012 11:34 AM

              No kidding. The place was wonderful.

              Some of my other favourites actually include a few rural konobas including Morgan at Brtonigla in Istria. Brtonigla is also known for San Rocco and Astarea. Istria is packed full of excellent eateries, that is for certain.

              We are returning in four weeks and cannot wait to try out some new places.

              1. re: chefathome
                s
                shoo bee doo Apr 3, 2012 06:07 PM

                There's also a small tavern, Skalinada, in Volosko for smaller fare. See

                http://www.skalinada.org/

                The owner is committed to Slow Food International.

                1. re: shoo bee doo
                  chefathome Apr 3, 2012 07:07 PM

                  Yes - that is actually on our list for May. Have you eaten there?

                  1. re: chefathome
                    s
                    shoo bee doo Apr 4, 2012 09:13 PM

                    chefathome, you are so lucky to have a home in Istria. The Opatija area is one of my favorite places in Europe.

                    No, I have never eaten at Skalinada because it's only 5 or 6 years old and I lived in Ljubljana and traveled often to Opatija about 10 years ago. But the owner and I were colleagues in Ljubljana. Aleksej and his American wife introduced me to the Slow Food movement back then and took me around Slovenia and Croatia to different Slow Food restaurants. Aleksej also cooked for us on different occasions in their home. They moved to Boston for a few years for work, so Aleksej is very aware of what gluten-free means. Aleksej returned to Istria (his birthplace) and knows all things Istrian. He recently bought land with olive trees and is studying for a degree in farming in addition to running the tavern.

                    So that's a long answer to a short question. I wish I could get to Croatia and would love to try Skalinada and all the places mentioned on this thread.

                    1. re: shoo bee doo
                      chefathome Apr 5, 2012 11:22 AM

                      Believe me, I am incredibly grateful every single day. It is still hard to believe that we own a house and garden there, so near such wondrous food. Each time we go I pinch myself as it seems like a dream. The Opatija area is divine, isn't it?

                      You lived in Ljubljana? That is intriguing. We're spending a bit more time in the area in October.

                      1. re: chefathome
                        s
                        shoo bee doo Apr 5, 2012 12:34 PM

                        Here's an old thread:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/385405

                        If you would like to continue with this discussion and not bore others, you can contact me at cchubiz at msn.com

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