Opatija-1

Le Mondrac

Croatia

There are meals – simple picnics, breakfast in bed, family dinners, lunch with a girlfriend –fun and nourishing   . . . and then there are gastronomic experiences.  Our dinner at Le Mondrac, in Opatija falls under the latter category.  It was the type of evening where my dining companions could only manage to speak in between courses and savored each morsel seriously with their eyes closed, so as to fully taste each artfully composed bite.  Le Mondrac is a destination restaurant – a place to base a trip to Istria around and enjoy an evening full of imagination, bright flavors and some of the best food of your life.

When I entered the restaurant and met the head chef, Dennis, I knew I was in for something special when I mentioned my being vegetarian, and a little twinkle lit in his eye as he responded, “ I love properly prepared vegetarian food.  For you, I’ll make a truffle foam with wild asparagus. And perhaps an unusual risotto, one made with nettles from on the hill.”  I could have died right there, just at the anticipation of such a grand gesture.  Sometimes, waiting for something divine is better than actually getting it  – remarkably, my meal blew my expectations far, far away . . .  But, I’ll get back to that part in a moment.

Le Mondrac’s smallish kitchen is brimming with activity – there are about 5 high school students deveining shrimp and plating appetizers, another young, dashing fellow guiding them, Ezio, the sous chef and Dennis, the visionary director of the whole operation.  Ezio and Dennis exude such passion and enthusiasm about the locally grown ingredients (“Just pick some fresh bay leaf and rosemary while out on a walk around the block!”), flavors and innovations on traditional coastal Croatian cuisine, it elicits huge grins from both my dad and I.  Dennis hosts culinary students from a local high-school, seemingly more trouble than it’s worth – but the students love being here – supposed to go home at 10pm, but they stay till midnight, the cooking bug has taken hold.  It’s obvious we are in tender, loving hands.  Once our cheeks come back to life from smiling so much, we get it together — in the kitchen, listening, laughing, learning and tasting.  The energy and creativity is still making us bonkers, but we contain our grins as we glide across the chic dining room into our seats, ready for the magic to happen.  Our dining pals don’t even know what their in for! HA!

The flow of the meal was perfect — impeccable service from a knockout waitress, appropriately -sized portions, a crisp local white wine, and each course trumping the last in sumptuousness and panache.   I should mention, we were all presented with three types of salt (volcanic, Himalayan, and Malden) as well as Indonesian and Szechuan pepper to season our meal to taste.  I love good salt and this detail was thoughtful as well as delicious. I started with a mushroom tempura puff, resting on a bed of roasted red pepper sauce, of course sprinkled with a variety of different salts – The Malden is still my favorite.  The puff was a nice, light, warm-up for things to come.  Next, a salad of cherry tomatoes, pesto and Burata cheese, locally made and very tasty – A cow’s milk cheese I’d describe as a cross between buffalo mozzarella and sheep’s milk ricotta.  This dish was a great play between the acid-sweetness of a vine-ripened tomato and mellow mood of a velvety, luxurious cheese.  It was superb.  Following the salad, the star of the show – something so devastatingly light yet flavorful, my father described it as “angel pussy.”  Roasted wild asparagus and mushrooms underneath a cloud of truffle-oil foamed potatoes with a poached yolk in the center and, in case you are still conscious (I had nearly passed out in awe at this point), a liberal shaving of local black truffles.  This dish, a play on local scrambled eggs, was an exercise in playful restraint (not too many flavors competing) and texture.  The potato–truffle “foam” was aerated in some manner to create a feeling of eating nothing but pure forest-meet-heaven- flavor.   I can still feel the whipped lightness in mouth – such a unique feeling.  When the foam combined with the earthy truffle, rich yolk and tender asparagus, the masterpiece was complete.  Like a Mattisse or Chagall, it was – the sum of each element was greater than each part.  It was incredible.  One of the most delicious and interesting dishes I’ve ever eaten.  I shall never be the same– now I want all my food transformed by Le Mondrac into fluffy foam!666

For the main course, the nettle risotto.  After the previous revelation, I almost couldn’t take a bite – but of course I did, and nearly finished the entirety of the luxurious grains.  The real surprise in this dish was the nettles – a nice mustardy green flower to contrast the richness of the Camembert and butter, of which there was plenty.  The risotto truly tasted of early spring, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Lastly, the swan song, exclamation mark, and elegant bow of the meal was dessert — a half-lava brownie with praline chip, accompanied by white chocolate and lime frappe (which was ladled onto the concoction at the table!  I love a dessert with presentation flair), topped with a lime sorbet and fresh flowers.  Wow.  It deserves it’s own article.  It was both unusual and sensational – the sinfully dark chocolate pastry co-mingling with the hint of lime, hit of caramel crunch and all making merry in a pool of heavenly creams.  If we thought dessert might be an afterthought, our savory items so divine, we were sorely wrong.  I proceeded to lick my plate when the pretty waitress wasn’t looking.  I’m only sad that they didn’t’ bring ten more servings of the exact same thing. 

Come to Croatia, let the Adriatic blues and romantic cliffs sweep you away – stroll along pristine pedestrian main squares, eat at the farmer’s markets for local fruits, breads and cheese, and dine like royalty at the Mondrac with your mother who finished the meal with “well, who died and made me Queen for a day?”

There are meals – simple picnics, breakfast in bed, family dinners, lunch with a girlfriend –fun and nourishing   . . . and then there are gastronomic experiences.  Our dinner at Le Mondrac, in Opatija falls under the latter category.  It was the type of evening where my dining companions could only manage to speak in between courses and savored each morsel seriously with their eyes closed, so as to fully taste each artfully composed bite.  Le Mondrac is a destination restaurant – a place to base a trip to Istria around and enjoy an evening full of imagination, bright flavors and some of the best food of your life.

When I entered the restaurant and met the head chef, Dennis, I knew I was in for something special when I mentioned my being vegetarian, and a little twinkle lit in his eye as he responded, “ I love properly prepared vegetarian food.  For you, I’ll make a truffle foam with wild asparagus. And perhaps an unusual risotto, one made with nettles from on the hill.”  I could have died right there, just at the anticipation of such a grand gesture.  Sometimes, waiting for something divine is better than actually getting it  – remarkably, my meal blew my expectations far, far away . . .  But, I’ll get back to that part in a moment.

Le Mondrac’s smallish kitchen is brimming with activity – there are about 5 high school students deveining shrimp and plating appetizers, another young, dashing fellow guiding them, Ezio, the sous chef and Dennis, the visionary director of the whole operation.  Ezio and Dennis exude such passion and enthusiasm about the locally grown ingredients (“Just pick some fresh bay leaf and rosemary while out on a walk around the block!”), flavors and innovations on traditional coastal Croatian cuisine, it elicits huge grins from both my dad and I.  Dennis hosts culinary students from a local high-school, seemingly more trouble than it’s worth – but the students love being here – supposed to go home at 10pm, but they stay till midnight, the cooking bug has taken hold.  It’s obvious we are in tender, loving hands.  Once our cheeks come back to life from smiling so much, we get it together — in the kitchen, listening, laughing, learning and tasting.  The energy and creativity is still making us bonkers, but we contain our grins as we glide across the chic dining room into our seats, ready for the magic to happen.  Our dining pals don’t even know what their in for! HA!

Opatija-3The flow of the meal was perfect — impeccable service from a knockout waitress, appropriately -sized portions, a crisp local white wine, and each course trumping the last in sumptuousness and panache.   I should mention, we were all presented with three types of salt (volcanic, Himalayan, and Malden) as well as Indonesian and Szechuan pepper to season our meal to taste.  I love good salt and this detail was thoughtful as well as delicious. I started with a mushroom tempura puff, resting on a bed of roasted red pepper sauce, of course sprinkled with a variety of different salts – The Malden is still my favorite.  The puff was a nice, light, warm-up for things to come.  Next, a salad of cherry tomatoes, pesto and Burata cheese, locally made and very tasty – A cow’s milk cheese I’d describe as a cross between buffalo mozzarella and sheep’s milk ricotta.  This dish was a great play between the acid-sweetness of a vine-ripened tomato and mellow mood of a velvety, luxurious cheese.  It was superb.  Following the salad, the star of the show – something so devastatingly light yet flavorful, my father described it as “angel pussy.”  Roasted wild asparagus and mushrooms underneath a cloud of truffle-oil foamed potatoes with a poached yolk in the center and, in case you are still conscious (I had nearly passed out in awe at this point), a liberal shaving of local black truffles.  This dish, a play on local scrambled eggs, was an exercise in playful restraint (not too many flavors competing) and texture.  The potato–truffle “foam” was aerated in some manner to create a feeling of eating nothing but pure forest-meet-heaven- flavor.   I can still feel the whipped lightness in mouth – such a unique feeling.  When the foam combined with the earthy truffle, rich yolk and tender asparagus, the masterpiece was complete.  Like a Mattisse or Chagall, it was – the sum of each element was greater than each part.  It was incredible.  One of the most delicious and interesting dishes I’ve ever eaten.  I shall never be the same– now I want all my food transformed by Le Mondrac into fluffy foam!

For the main course, the nettle risotto.  After the previous revelation, I almost couldn’t take a bite – but of course I did, and nearly finished the entirety of the luxurious grains.  The real surprise in this dish was the nettles – a nice mustardy green flower to contrast the richness of the Camembert and butter, of which there was plenty.  The risotto truly tasted of early spring, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Lastly, the swan song, exclamation mark, and elegant bow of the meal was dessert — a half-lava brownie with praline chip, accompanied by white chocolate and lime frappe (which was ladled onto the concoction at the table!  I love a dessert with presentation flair), topped with a lime sorbet and fresh flowers.  Wow.  It deserves it’s own article.  It was both unusual and sensational – the sinfully dark chocolate pastry co-mingling with the hint of lime, hit of caramel crunch and all making merry in a pool of heavenly creams.  If we thought dessert might be an afterthought, our savory items so divine, we were sorely wrong.  I proceeded to lick my plate when the pretty waitress wasn’t looking.  I’m only sad that they didn’t’ bring ten more servings of the exact same thing.

www.lemandrac.com

Obala F. Supila 10, Volosko
Opatija, Croatia
051 701 357