Fresh from the sea, Konoba Batelina swims with excitement

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 Meanwhile, back in Istria, we were exploring the countryside and small wineries that are producing some amazing wines, that are holding fast to traditional styles, such as at Konoba Batelina.  While there are certainly international varieties creeping in, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, the vast majority of production includes Malvasia and Teran. Along the same note, Istria plays host to some of the most amazing food I’ve had travelling in many years.  After the lunch at Konoba Pineto, I could have died happily, but we were in for more treats at Konoba Batelina. Arriving at this small tavern in a village outside of Pula, there is no menu.  Instead, the offerings are given to you verbally by your extremely enthusiastic waiter, who describes each dish with a lust that made my mouth water.  Hey, if Konoba Batelina is good enough for Bordain it’s good enough for me! I was a little worried as we were told that we would not be getting a selection of dishes, but rather…ALL of them, but my worry turned to a fight for the last bite as they brought dish after dish of hot and cold appetizers from the Adriatic nearby.  I love fish, and I order it a lot when I’m travelling because a) I can’t cook it worth a #$(*& and b) coastal countries know what they are doing. Chef David Skoko presented us with our menu (I undoubtedly forgot some dishes but there were something in the neighbor of 8 colds, 6 hots, pasta, and dessert): Monkfish Shark liver pate Conga eel Red Mullet in lemon Marinated sardines Octopus salad Scallops Boiled spotted Dog-fish Crab salad (yes, this one I avoided but BrixChick Liza got my share so she’s happy!) Grey mullet fish soup with a corn meal “scallop”, basically polenta that was cooked in a scallop shell which was a beautiful presentation pasta with dried fish roe, a house specialty and famous.  The salty brininess of the fish roe was so subtle, and entirely amazing Dessert.  Oh I can’t even go in to dessert.  There were 7 of them!  Each one was a  different taste sensation. More than the food, the conversation with the chef enthralled me.  David’s stories of his life growing up in Istria, and his father’s adventures as a fisherman, which inspired him to open the restaurant, as well as our conversations about how Croatia joining the EU on July 1st will impact the local economy were inspiring.  From the local fish to the politics of a region that has been influenced by a dozen cultures, Konoba Batelina is a stop you need to go out of your way to visit. Special thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board, our guide Marko, and Chef David for a truly unique and wonderful experience. Google

Stancija Meneghetti – a retreat that is star worthy

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**picture heavy post** After we settled in to the Hotel Lone, meaning we dumped our bags, dropped our jaws at the amazing location, and looked around, we were whisked off to our next Istrian Adventure locale of Stancija Meneghetti, just outside of town, to experience the farm, the guest house, and the delicious wine. Meneghetti is a beautiful old villa, located in the heart of Istrian vineyards.  From our location in the middle of the scrubrush, one could hardly tell we were a stone’s throw from the Adriadic, but the cooling breezes and climate are a large influence here.  As we drove through the countryside, I wasn’t quite sure if our Istrian guide, Marko, was disposing of us – or taking us to a great wine location!  But finally, after passing several questionable sites, we arrived at the old iron gates of Meneghetti, and the brush cleared to show a beautiful property. Once a private villa available for rentals, Villa Meneghetti is now a luxury boutique hotel, with four distinctly elegant rooms, two swimming pools (gah!), and a unique wine & food experience. The dining room is a rustic part of the old villa, complete with a beautiful collection of old coffee grinders, and kitchen equipment. Built in the vicinity of the biggest Austro-Hungarian stronghold in this area, Stancija Meneghetti was the place of rest for officers and their guests. There they could hide from the blazing Mediterranean sun or get warm beside an Istrian fireplace, have a glass of wine and eat home-made cheese and smoked ham. Like many other estates at the Mediterranean, this one is a mixture of urban and rural elements, modern and traditional ones, surrounded by intact nature. Built of white Istrian stone, the same one that glitters like lace on St.Marcus’ Square in Venice, Stancija Meneghetti is harmoniously incorporated into the central part of an ample, cultivated space, like an island in the sea of peace and green foliage. Conceived as a separate “station” with independent production of basic ingredients of healthy and currently so popular Mediterranean cuisine, it continues the tradition of producing best olive oil and wine. But enough about the history!  What about the wine?  What about the food?  As luck might have it, and also hunger, we were able to keep our Funky Zagreb tour guide Mladen, over for lunch. First up, the 2011 Malavazija, which for the rest of the Wine-Premacy, was paired with an ingenious Crab Shake.  These spectacular spectaculars are an ingenious display of layered ingredients, served in a covered dish which the diner is encourage to shake vigorously.  Of course for me,  since I didn’t want to cut my vacation short with a seafood induced ER visit, I had the most delicious St. Jacob’s Shell (Scallops) with cauliflower.  Malvazija (Malvasia) is the indigenous white grape of the region.  There will be many more Malvasia’s to come, so stay tuned on that! After the seafood course, we moved on to the pasta.  As this part of Croatia is very […]

Where am I? Italy, Croatia, Austria, Istria!

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After our snowy and rainy day of exploring Zagreb, the intrepid Mousekateers set off to explore Istria, the dangling participle of Croatia.  This peninsula of land that is tucked under the Trieste region of Italy, and just under the former Yugoslav region of Slovenia, now a thriving independant country of it’s own.  Hanging out in the middle of the Adriadic, it has been part of Venice, part of Yugoslavia, and now part of Croatia.  Istria is distinctly – Istrian. Are you Italian?  Are you Croatian?  I am Istrian! But first, how does one get to Istria (Istra in Italian)?  From Zagreb, in the northern plains, and no where near the coastal riviera of Dalmatia, we had to get over a high mountain pass, around an inlet, and over to the other side of Istria to the gorgeous port city of Rovinj. So how in the world were three wine & travel writers, with all of our luggage and booming voices, supposed to accomplish this?  Marcy, Liza and I really didn’t want to deal with the headache of renting a car in Europe, and weren’t comfortable driving in a country that had a language more foreign than a French wine label.  So… Mladen to the rescue!  A former engineer, Mladen Car offers a wide variety of biking, hiking, walking, and driving tours in both Zagreb and the rest of Croatia.  Known as Funky Zagreb, he loves Mad Max, beer, and showing off his town.  Growing up in Zagreb, with the sense of humor that rivals a stand up comedy open mike night, I cannot recommend Mladen’s services highly enough.  In fact, I’m already thinking of my next visit, when we can explore some of the places that we didn’t have time to see on this visit – like the barrel maker, a great restaurant in Rovinj, and his favorite beer bars in Zagreb. With the mini van packed to the gills with bags and wine writers, we set off for our first stop – Hum, the official Smallest Town in the World, and the capital of Rajkia (Croatia’s answer to grappa, but more on that later). There is a change when you pop through the other side of the tunnel and end up high above the large port city of Rijeka.  At the crossroads of a multi-cultureral stew, Rijeka is the gateway to Istria.  Passing through town, you can see the hustle and bustle of Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and eastern Europe coming together.Now, back to Istria.   While it will be quiet in the off season, I am looking forward to exploring wine capital of Croatia!  Istria has been heavily influenced by Italy, and there are medieval hill towns reminiscent of Tuscany, and vineyards clinging to the hillside slopes with sweeping view. Istria is roughly the shape of a heart, or triangle, and is separated from the rest of Croatia.  The best part of this area is that is one of the most widely known wine regions in Croatia.  It’s a particularly fascinating […]