I knew going in that asking a taxi driver for dinner recommendations leads to two possible outcomes: I get sent to a place the driver has a deal with and he earns commission, or I get honest advice from a local about a great food place.
Luckily – it was the latter. So, next day around noon he took me to Konoba Nono (konoba is a local name for a trattoria, a tavern) in Petrovia, 3 miles or so outside Umag, in Petrovia. When the weather is good, I’d recommend riding a bike along the coast to the restaurant and seeing all of Umag along the way.
At the door, I realised that I’ve arrived just in time for the Days of the Adriatic Squid. No wonder – squid is at its best between October and February, so I decided to let the chef take me on squid flavoured autumn journey, paired with local wines (you can’t go wrong with local wines in Western Istria, as they are one of the most prominent winemaking regions of Croatia).
The first dish was a hot and cold salad of sliced leeks, smaller squid and Dutch Salad (otherwise known as Corn Salad or Mache). Roasted leek was soft, sweet and juicy, with a hint of onion going on, that worked so well with the tender and savoury sweetness of the squid flesh. Salad tied it all together, adding a bit of freshness and texture to every mouthful. As I closed my eyes to focus on the flavours, waitress poured me a glass of Deklić Rose from Vižinada, 2016. Vintage. “Barbarians, ” I thought to myself, “serving rose wines out of season”, but I swallowed my arrogance along with the first sip, as the freshness of raspberries and forest fruit followed and accentuated the flavours of the dish. My hat off to the chef. Powerful opening, if I ever tasted one.
I rinsed my taste buds with a chunk of crusty bread, trying out four different olive oils that the kind people at Nono served that day.
First one was fruity and light, just the way I like it.
The other one was green, robust and spicy.
The third was ranked first in one of 27 categories on this year’s Flos Olei and was medium fruity (along with the wine, folks of Western Istria make some of the best olive oils in the world – try them, by all means).
As I was smacking my lips, pleased with the olive tasting results, pasta was served. Sizeable homemade ravioli stuffed with squid tentacles and cheese, then covered in a mild sauce that combined calamari and canestrelli (tiny scallops, size of a pea). The first mouthful melted my brain with pleasure. Such intricate, rich seafood flavour, sweet and savoury at the same time. I ate the ravioli on my plate religiously slow, trying to prolong this masterdish. I can still recall it on the palate. The wine accompanying it was a crisp, fresh white Malvazija Fiore from 2016, with just the right amount of acidity to counter the dishes sweetness, but not overpower it. Such harmony, oh my.
Quickly, some more bread and amazing oils to rinse the palate, as we reach the peak of enjoyment: a colossal squid stuffed with shrimp tails, then grilled whole and served on a bed of pumpkin puree. Sweet, earthy, savoury, then you crunch on a nicely caramelised bit, add ing a touch of smoke and depth to the flavour of the dish. Accompanied by Chardonnay Ivancic, from Novigrad, Medium body, with lively acids and notes of green apple, towards a buttery finish. As I polished the last bits of sauce on my plate, waiters replaced it with dessert: kroštule, traditional crispy fritters in shape of tangled flat noodles.
At this exact moment, my phone came back to life so that I can share a bit of atmosphere at Nono and kroštule: traditional crispy fritters in shape of tangled flat noodles.