Istrian shellfish – scallops, mussels, warty venuses, Noah’s arks, queen scallops and oysters have a special flavour owing to the clear sea they grow in. They come to the table picked wild or cultivated, with the tradition of cultivation going back to Antiquity, and are the best at this time of the year, reaching their optimum fullness and maturity. We wouldn’t know any of this if didn’t set off for northwestern Istria with napkins around our necks!
The second edition of Shellfish Days was presented in the Villa Rosetta Hotel in Zambratija near Umag, where shellfish-based dishes were prepared by Snježana Hosjak. Every dish was paired with a specially selected Moreno Degrassi wine and CUJ olive oils, chosen by Danijel Kraljević.
Although we were a little disappointed that Zambrotta wasn’t from Zambratija, that didn’t prevent us from stuffing ourselves (you can never have too much seafood) with breaded mussels on bed of arugula and noodles in cuttlefish ink with queen scallops and cherry tomatoes.
Although your editor vowed never to eat mussels again after having worked as a hired help at a mussels nursery on the island of Pag for a day – I simply couldn’t turn them down…
Although the Stari Kaštel Restaurant above Buje captivated us with its interior and cellar combined with an actual excavation site, the best thing about it were the shellfish and friends wonders presented to us by our host Alex.
For the second Shellfish Days, we heartily recommend warty venuses, brought to the table in the flaming black-white salt crust.
When Alex (hats down for sense of humour and service - THE BEST waiter!) breaks the salt crust, the shellfish opens all on its own and you have the privilege of being the first person to kiss the trapped mermaid… After the fire, there came ice and wild oysters on wet stone.
Although I couldn’t tell the difference between wild and cultivated shellfish, the sight of smoke belching through the mouthwatering oysters was undeniably romantic. Tomaz rose is pretty amazing with warty venuses and Degrassi Malvasia cuts through oysters like knife through butter. Nevertheless, we were totally won over by the winner of the day – flambéed scallop in potato cream with two types of truffles.
We crave for meat like a child craves a toy car in a sandbox, but the second you bite through the baked shellfish muscle (pure sea pork tenderloin!) you feel like it must be one of the 10 best flavours ever. With the Saint’s Hills Nevina we enjoy our most copious meal – queen scallop risotto in black polenta and cuttlefish ink cloud.
Even Poseidon would sit on the terrace and light a cigar after a meal like this … what an excellent impression, hats off to the chefs!
Apart from the Villa Rosetta Hotel and Stari Kaštel, Badi, Melon, Nono and Vila Villola from Umag, Navigare and San Bendetto from Novigrad, Astarea from Brtonigla and Porto Salvore from Savudrija will also demonstrate their shellfish cooking skills at the second Shellfish Days. If you like shellfish but still don’t come to northwestern Istria within the next month, we really don’t know what to say – you simply can’t miss this!