Monday, March 10, 2014

Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Punjene paprike
Punjene paprike (stuffed peppers)
Dining out has never been a major part of our visits to Croatia. With so many aunts, uncles and cousins back home, we spend most of our time hopping (happily) from one feast to the next. (I say "feast" because that's what they are. Rarely is a Croatian family meal less than 3 or 4 courses.)

On every visit, I make sure to get my fill of the classics: my aunt's stuffed peppers, my other aunt's homemade dumpling soup, and my uncle's octopus salad. There's usually a roast lamb with farm-fresh potatoes in there somewhere, too. And on our most recent trip, an all-day eat-a-thon where my dad's brother whipped up a savory veal goulash, followed a couple of hours later by BBQ and grilled vegetables from his garden.

Actually, I don't think I've ever felt the sensation of hunger on any one of my visits. Shocker.

So when I found out we'd be spending a few extra non-family days in Zagreb this last time, I went on a mission to try some of the city's best restaurants. I've been hearing a lot about Zagreb's culinary scene as of late and I had to get a taste for myself. Luckily, our stay in Zagreb was scheduled for the beginning of our vacation; we went with open minds and empty stomachs.

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Punjene paprike
Digging in.
It's best to start with the basics. While no one will ever touch my aunt's punjene paprike (stuffed peppers), these came close. Unfortunately for you, I wasn't yet in journalist mode so I forgot to write down the name of this spot. What I can tell you is that it's at the bottom of Zagreb's Uspinjača (funicular), on the right-hand side when you're looking at the cable cars.

Stuffed peppers are a Croatian staple and we grew up eating them here in the states, too, but they're never quite the same. There's something about the peppers in Croatia - large like bell peppers, but a pale green color and slightly more tangy - that you can't find in the U.S.

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Trilogija
Škripavac sir on toast with black truffle creme
Trilogija is one of Zagreb's most acclaimed restaurants. The menu changes daily and they use all local Croatian ingredients. Pictured here is a toast appetizer topped with black truffle creme and Škripavac sir, which comes from Lika and roughly translates to creaky cheese. It's named as such because of its texture and the sensation you get when biting into a piece. Trilogija had a fantastic selection of Croatian wines by the glass, including our recent favorite, Malvazija. (A dry white I'd compare to sauvignon blanc.)

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Basement Bar
Basement Bar for delicious and affordable Croatian wine.
By the time we were finished with our meal at Trilogija, traveler's euphoria had set in and we weren't ready to call it a night. We asked our waiter for a recommendation on where the locals go to drink after-hours and he recommended Basement Bar, which is directly across from the unnamed restaurant with the delicious stuffed peppers.

Between sips of varietals from Slavonia to Dalmatia, I spent most of my time here doing mathematical conversions of the Croatian kuna to U.S. dollar - $3.50 for a huge pour of really, really good wine! Oh, if only Croatia weren't switching to the Euro...

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Bistro Agava
Once the sun sets, Bistro Agava is perfect for a romantic dinner.
Probably one of the most romantic meals we've had in Croatia, I loved Bistro Agava's tiered outdoor patio. Its pale facade sparkles during sunset and low-lit lamps and candles set the perfect mood at night. Again, an unbelievable wine selection. (Sember rose, Markota cabernet sauvignon and Tomac Millennium sparkling are among the must-tries.) For food, started with fresh tomato soup and seasonal salad. As a main, homemade orecchiette pasta with smoked mussels in a bell pepper sauce.

Style Jaunt Destinations: Zagreb Restaurants, Pivnica Mali Medo
Gotta go with the classics...
While pounding the pavement on a hot afternoon, scouting locations for our Zagreb Style Jaunt TV episode, we decided to break at Pivnica Mali Medo (er, Little Bear's Brewery) for a round of locally-brewed beer and ćevapčići (rolled, grilled minced meat). These delightful little kebabs are best served with sliced raw onion, salt, and lepinja, a Croatian flatbread that novices will compare to pita bread. 

(In my not-so-humble opinion, lepinja is sooo much better than pita bread. It's chewier, gooey-er, thicker and all-around more satisfying.) 

Any way, there are only two acceptable sides for ćevapčići and they are: ajvar (a vegetable relish) and kajmak (Croatian sour cream). American sour cream can be substituted if you don't have kajmak but never, ever under any circumstances order ketchup with your ćevapčići. Got it? Dobro.

One restaurant that we didn't get to try but I've heard fantastic things about is Pod Gričkim Topom. Next time!

PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic

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