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.
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