Croatia: the four-hour Istrian lunch

Valsabbion kept showing up in my research of restaurants in Istria. It’s the kind of place where the dishes are small and fancy, and there are a lot of courses. I love that kind of restaurant. I asked if they could accommodate a vegetarian. They could. I reserved.

Valsabbion is a hotel and restaurant located near the giant harbor in Pula, down at the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula. The immediate area was disappointingly uninteresting for wandering around, but that was fine: we were there to dine.

We settled into the outdoor table that would be our base for the afternoon and accepted an aperitif of local sparkling wine. The men chose a seven-course prix fixe menu that would set the pace for our meal. We were warned it would take several hours. That was OK, we had time. We chose a local rosé to complement our meals, and we were off.

My delight started with the appetizers, presented in a series of little glasses and spoons which contained tasty spreads of local veggies, cubes of local cheeses, and interesting little fried creations.

My next course was a sort of vegetable lasagna with an abundance of fresh truffles.

Next came a layered cup of local wild asparagus, a poached egg, and a wild asparagus puree.

One of the omnivores’ dishes involved fresh local fish stacked between sheets of crispy brown mashed potatoes.

Wild asparagus risotto. Wild asparagus was indeed wild, local, and in season, as illustrated by the woman picking it by the side of the road on our drive into town.

Gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms.

No haute cuisine dining experience would be complete without a little bit of theater. This came in the form of little corks of beef which the waiter charred with a blowtorch as he told us about the near-tragic history of the local cows. I was a little concerned that his story was going to end with “they are now extinct and I am serving you the meat from the very last one,” but luckily it did not.

We might have been too full to eat our desserts had they not been so tasty. The chocolate souffle came with a sprinkle of freshly-grated Himalayan salt, a drizzle of local olive oil, and a scoop of fennel ice cream. The other desserts were similarly elaborate and delicious.

Overall I was very pleased with my four-hour lunch. The chef did an excellent job with my vegetarian tasting menu, and the omnivores seems quite happy, as well. If you’re looking for a splurge on the Istrian Peninsula, this is the place to do it.

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7 thoughts on “Croatia: the four-hour Istrian lunch

  1. oh my gosh looks AMAZING!!! That dessert! The salt put me over the edge – I love a crystal of salt on my tongue when I am eating something sweet.

  2. Glad you guys had a great time in Croatia. We stayed about a block away from this restaurant for two weeks in 2008. The area is boring, but great for a quiet, family vacation. I loved Valsabbion and one night we splurged on the 12 course tasting menu, which was unbelievable.

  3. Oh hell yes!! Must try this next time I’m down there. Question, were both asparagus dishes yours or was one of them for the omnivore?

  4. @Joke – At first I thought the white-gloved salt grating was a little over the top, but the result was delicious.

    @Christina – 12 courses! That must have taken all night (but what a fun night).

    @Andrea – Be sure to reserve. We did it the day before, but I imagine during high season they book up more in advance.

    @Molly – The risotto was Sarah’s. In addition to my egg dish, the asparagus made small appearances in two other courses of mine. It was delicious, but I’d also be curious to go back in another season to see what other local veggies get featured.

  5. Wow! That looks absolutely amazing… I can see I’m going to have to up my game at lunchtime. I had been planning to make an omelette and salad… but now it’ll have to be at least five courses of something amazing arranged in layers! Help!

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