Long hyped as the next Tuscany, Croatia’s northerly Istrian peninsula shares vibrant coasts, pastoral vineyards and a mellow growing climate with its Italian neighbor. But the region has a culinary culture all its own.
Here, four places to try.
Restaurant Zigante; Livade
The most prized of Istria’s gastronomic treasures are the black and white tartufi that proliferate in the forests of Motovun. The village of Livade makes a clutch home base for those who want to buy, taste and even try hunting for these buried delicacies (most Istrian hotels can arrange foraging excursions). The area is also home to the peninsula’s most famous eatery, Restaurant Zigante. Champagne-and-truffle risotto, truffle-glazed duck breast and even truffle ice cream are among the offerings. Keep an eye out for proprietor Giancarlo Zigante, who, in 1999, achieved fame by discovering the world’s largest truffle (still listed by Guinness, at 2.8 pounds). restaurantzigante.com
Villa Meneghetti; Bale
Like most of the wineries that pepper the peninsula, this 29-acre estate near Bale is best known for its crisp, white Malvazija wines (along with excellent olive oils). But a tour and tasting reveal some surprises—including an exceptional dining room, where dishes like handmade gnocchi with wild chanterelles are paired with house vintages. For those who want to linger, there are four elegant Relais & Châteaux-listed guest rooms available in a turn of the century stancija (villa). meneghetti.info
Kantinon Tavern; Rovinj
A cavernous space fronting the busy harbor of the medieval port town of Rovinj, Kantinon is the ideal place for a traditional, rustic lunch. Start with a platter of Istrian charcuterie—lean, air-dried pršut (prosciutto) and wild-boar sausage—then follow up with thick, inky stew of barley and braised squid, and a rich slab of rožata (a flan-like custard). Obala Alzo Rismondo 18, Rovinj, Croatia
Wine Vault Restaurant; Rovinj
Boasting Croatia’s most extensive wine collection—more than 500 labels, the majority from Istria—this restaurant occupies the cellar level of Rovinj’s ritziest boutique hotel, Monte Mulini. Chef Tomislav Gretić spins delicate, ethereal dishes from the region’s earthiest ingredients: a poached egg balances atop dainty stems of wild asparagus and black morels; a crackling-skinned pork loin perches above a buttery horseradish tart with ginger-apple puree. If you can, reserve a seat at the intimate chef’s table, where you can read the appreciative comments past diners (including Anthony Bourdain) have scrawled on the surrounding walls. montemulinihotel.com