In tandem with its wines, Croatia has developed a world-class culinary scene. On my first visit to the country’s coast, I loved the fresh seafood, but the sameness of the presentations and recipes felt deadening. Chefs now are more daring and innovative, putting contemporary spins on traditional dishes and fully exploiting the rich variety of local, seasonal Mediterranean ingredients.
The Michelin Guide now reviews Croatian restaurants, and the country recently received its first Michelin stars (one each in Rovinj, Šibenik and Dubrovnik). I have no doubt that there will be more to come.
Listed in order from north to south, these restaurants were my favorites along the Dalmatian Coast outside of Dubrovnik. I also recommend the superlative restaurant of the Lešić Dimitri Palace hotel in Korčula.
This Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of old Šibenik has a simple interior, with exposed stone walls and wood tables, and outdoor seating overlooking the Cathedral of St. James. I had a fine four-course lunch (diners can choose up to six courses or opt for an even larger tasting menu) of elevated, unfussy cuisine inspired by local traditions. The star dish, surprisingly, was sage-breaded beef tongue with pickled spring onion, duxelles and creams of pumpkin and truffle. A glass of sparkling Bibich Debit cut right through the richness. I also enjoyed the flaky hake wrapped in prosciutto, with Jerusalem artichoke purée and sautéed spinach.
Jurja Dalmatinca 1, Šibenik. Tel. (385) 22-213-701
I had a delicious Italian dinner on the quiet covered patio of this inviting restaurant in the old center of Trogir. My good-humored waiter first served a plate of homemade tagliatelle in a decadent bisque-like sauce with small shrimp, spider crab and amberjack, followed by impressively well-rendered and tender smoked duck breast with ribbons of carrot and zucchini. When I couldn’t finish the duck, the waiter remarked, “Ah, I must apologize. I told you the portion would not be too big.”
Restoran Don Dino
Bl. A. Kazotica 8, Trogir. Tel. (385) 21-882-656
Occupying a bright, contemporary space in central Split, stylish Bokeria is staffed by youthful waiters in hipster-approved aprons of denim and leather. The wine list has about 25 Croatian selections by the glass, in addition to many more by the bottle, and my waiter offered to pour a taste of anything I was unsure about. After a rather serious glass of Radanović Tris, a sparkling blend of Pošip, Rukatac and Cetinka from Korčula, I sipped a citrusy and stony Saints Hills Frenchie blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, which paired well with an egg roll filled with saffron-spiked shredded cod. A glass of Bibich Lasina, redolent of cherries and earth, worked beautifully with some very al dente risotto of oxtail and chateaubriand. “Lasina is Croatia’s version of Pinot Noir,” the waiter explained. I loved it.
Bokeria Kitchen & Wine
Domaldova 8, Split. Tel. (385) 21-355-577
Pan-Mediterranean ZOI overlooks Split’s Riva, a short walk from the Hotel Vestibul Palace. It was too chilly to dine on the splendid harbor-view roof terrace when I visited, but it felt like no compromise to dine at my window-side table in the chic interior, which incorporates part of the ancient Roman wall of Diocletian’s Palace. As the sun set amid the Riva’s palm trees, I enjoyed a refreshing niçoise-style salad with meaty tuna loin and quail eggs, followed by thick, medium-rare lamb chops marinated in balsamic vinegar, honey and lavender, with earthy morel mushrooms and ratatouille-like bell peppers.
Obala Hrvatskog Narodnog Preporoda 23, Split. Tel. (385) 21-637-491
Located right next to Lešić Dimitri Palace’s restaurant in Korčula’s old center, Nonno has an equally appealing seaview patio. Nonno doesn’t reach its neighbor’s heights, but I enjoyed its unfussy Italian food nevertheless. A salad of tender octopus with capers, tomatoes and onions tasted tangy and fresh, and I loved the homemade macaroni with mussels, sweet shrimp and a Grk wine-infused tomato sauce.
Šetalište Petra Kanavelića, Korčula. Tel. (385) 91-660-8276
This small, family-run restaurant in a little village on Korčula island hadn’t quite opened for the season when I visited. Nevertheless, the owners agreed to host me for lunch in a cozy dining room with stone walls, a wood-beamed ceiling and a woodburning fireplace (the terrace was under renovation). First came a plate of local cheeses with homemade green-tomato marmalade, homemade smoked bacon and homemade prosciutto-like Dalmatian ham, accompanied by rosemary-topped focaccia. A sensational firm-yet-custardy paper-thin omelet followed, filled with more Dalmatian ham and spicy wild asparagus. I also relished the pasta course: creamy goat cheese ravioli in sage-brown-butter sauce, and spicy macaroni with wild fennel in a peperoncino cream sauce. For dessert, a glass of homemade loquat liqueur accompanied some heavenly sweet and citrusy mint sorbet. In between courses, the two adorable children of the house came in, she to show off her English and he to play dominoes. It was an unforgettable lunch and my favorite meal of the entire trip.
Vl. Matij Farac Pupnat 28, Pupnat, Korčula. Tel. (385) 20-717-109
At the base of the Pelješac Peninsula, the towns of Ston and Mali Ston merit a visit simply to marvel at the elaborate set of defensive walls connecting them, built to protect their salt pans. Today the towns are famous for their oysters, and everyone seems to think that Kapetanova Kuća (Captain’s House) is the best restaurant in which to have them. But when everyone goes somewhere, I like to go somewhere else. I chose this seafood spot in the nearby village of Hodilje. The shady patio overlooked a calm bay with a forested island. When some meaty oysters arrived, I asked, “These came from here?” The visibly confused waitress replied, “Yes, when you ordered them, we picked them out of the sea, right over there.” They tasted fabulously fresh and briny. For my main course, I chose the specialty of shellfish “buzara,” mussels with a smattering of fresh scallops and clams in a sauce of garlic and white wine. In warm weather, you can go for a swim after lunch right off the patio.
Seosko Domaćinstvo Ficović
Hodilje, Ston. Tel. (385) 95-393-4185