29 May, 2013

Konoba Batelina - Delicious Food and WIne in #Istria

Konoba is a mouth watering word for me. It means small  restaurant in Croatian, but if you get a chance to visit one. you will come away with the connotation of so much more. A highlight of my visit to Istria was definitely my dinner with @marcygordon and @LusciousLushes,Thea, at Konoba Batelina.

I had seen this restaurant featured the TV program, "No Reservations". Though I love Anthony Bourdain, having  seen some of the things he eats... well, I was a little worried I was in over my head with fishy fish cuisine.  Ha!  Batelina gets rave reviews and with
good reason.  David Skoko works hard to please the hungry palate.  And he not just features, but elevates what some would consider bait fishes with impeccable and imaginative preparations. 

 Everything in the restaurant is fresh and seasonal, so it changes daily.  David's dad is a fisherman, so he brings in what he brings in.  Not everyday brings monkfish, but red mullet is reliable and convenient.  It's
also super delicious simply presented with a vinegar reduction and pristine Istrian olive oil.  My worries about overt fishiness were swept away in a series of briny delicious bites.  

 David's philosophy that if you present poor fish beautifully, people will like them, was borne out in me as I gobbled everything presented, marveling at the freshness and tastiness of each presentation.  
From shark liver pate to grey mullet medallions, which were presented like jewel box patisserie on a
bed of sesame seeds sauced in a tasty bright green emulsion, each bite was better than the next.  

The signature crab salad, served in it spiny shell, was spiked with citrus and herbs and all mine due to allergies at the table. 

From cold appetizers, we moved to a hot soup and biscuit cleverly
 baked in a scallop shell to give it is lovely form.  

And then to an amazingly toothsome pasta with shaved bottarga.  Bottarga is a product formed from pressed roe, dried, often of Grey mullet but sometimes of tuna.  In any case its a strong flavor that sings when handled deftly as in this case with the tender pasta and buttery sauce.

David told us that his mom and his grandmother are fantastic chefs who share his love of nose to tail (fin?) cooking,  He often gets an idea and they work on it to improve and perfect.  They love to transform ingredients to delicious fresh dishes that keep people coming back.

The talent in the family also extends to his sister whose pastry creations will bewitch you.  My favorite were tender cookies, cherries and custard.  Yum!  Cappuccino is actually a trompe l'oiel dessert.  Delish!

We lingered on a rainy weekday and got to talk and enjoy David's company and conversation, but during the busy warm season, the tiny cute place is packed and turns away some disappointed poor planners.  No matter what Bourdain say, be sure to call for reservations when you go:

Cimulje 25, Banjole, Pula 52100, Croatia
(052) 573767    
As for wine, we drank deeply of the house white and did not ask enough questions about it.  Trust the kitchen to provide lovely house wine or recommendations for great local wine by the bottle.  Fortunately for us, we were packing, having just come from a tasting at one of the Wine Wizards of Istria.  More on that later...

Delicious local cheese

Many thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board for planning and hosting this bucket list event!

04 May, 2013

Cinco De Mayo Surprise - Think Riesling!

Secret Ingredients: Cholula and fish sauce
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!  In Puebla, Mexico there is an official celebration to commemorate the May 5th where against all odds, the Mexican army fought off France. 

Historically significant?  You make the call, but it's a great occasion to show solidarity with our amigos mexicanos and raise a glass with friends, of course with some delectable Latin inspired or straight up Mexican snacks.  To really mix things up, pair your food with German Riesling.
What?  Matt Giadreitis, the export director for Dr. Loosen, was the first to suggest this to me and it has become an obsession.  With spicy food, as many Mexican offerings are, the residual sugar of the wine tames the heat and makes the food much more enjoyable. 

With dishes that are heavy on citrus, like ceviche, the high acid stands up to it.  My favorite recipe for ceviche throws in mango.  Mango is delightful with the tropical notes in the red slate (volcanic) based offerings from the Uerziger Wuertgarten vineyard in the Mosel.  Translated, Uerziger Wuertgarten means "Spice garden in Urzig". So named because the steep, red slate slopes were where the monks planted their herbs and spices.  Coincidence? 

Down the block in Erden, the slate is blue.  This produces more citrusy character.  Both end up being super tasty with Mexican food and are perfect choices for your Cinco De Mayo party.

I worked up a recipe for Riesling spiced tacos that is easy and goes with both. 
Riesling Spiced Tacos with Citrus Fennel Slaw

3 lbs boneless pork butt roast. Ask your butcher to cut it for carnitas in 2 x 2 pieces
1 large bottle pilsner
2 cloves of garlic
1 large white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 bay leaves

Separately, chop the cilantro and parsley so fine they are almost paste.  Divide each onto  two portions
Finely chop garlic.  Cut onion in half.  Chop one half into a fine dice. In mixing bowl combine 1/2 cilantro, 1/2 parsley. garlic, fennel, coriander seeds and bay leaves into a spice mixture.   Roll carnitas meat into spice mixture and coat.  When meat is well covered with spice mixture, transfer to large ziploc bag.  Pour beer into bag.  Squeeze out air, seal tightly and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight. 

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350.  Place a grate/rack in a roasting or hotel pan.  Pour in contents of ziploc bag so beer is on bottom and arrange meat in single layer on rack.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Spread reserved cilantro and parsley over meat.  Roughly chop reserved onion half and place evenly on meat.  Cover pan with foil and roast covered for 2 hours.  Remove foil and cook 1 hour more. 

To make the slaw:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1 tsp salt
1 /2 teaspoon pepper
Juice of one orange
One grapefruit
1 large bulb fennel

In mixing bowl commbine first six ingredients. Cut grapefruit into supremes over the bowl to catch the juices, tossing in grapefruit sections as you go.  Using a mandoline, slice fennel into bowl.  Do not use the fronds.  When all ingredients are combined, place into large Ziploc bag, seal and marinate until you are ready to assemble tacos.

Warm tortillas.  Add meat and slaw.  Garnish with ripe avocado chunks and squeeze of lime if  desired. Offer an assortment of hot sauces so guests can add as much as they want. Add a lovely glass of Riesling and toast Mexico!