That first meal while traveling can go any number of ways, many of them bad. We're typically tired, bleary-eyed, confused, stinky, lost, and woefully unprepared with a plan for lunch when we arrive the first day.
The first day of this trip to Croatia in Split was no different.
After checking out where Khaleesi kept her dragons (the basement of Diocletian's Palace), we took in a few hours of sun and local beer on the riva. I loved the juxtaposition of the gorgeous, bright, wide-open riva, and the inside of the Palace walls, where narrow and seemingly endless alleys snake through the old city.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, I have to admit, a lot of the appeal of visiting Croatia came from seeing the various towns featured in Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik in particular was as awe-inspiring as it looks on the show, even with the show's CGI and post-production making it look even cooler.
Back to food.
Some quick research led us to Uje Oil Bar. After checking out the posted menu, and seeing the lovely outdoor seating, we knew we were in the right place. It's nestled just far enough from the main squares that you're not being trampled by hoards of tourists with selfie-sticks. My God, people walk around all day with their cell phone 2 feet from their faces, taking pictures of themselves. When did this become "normal?" People of earth: you are ugly, your photos are awful, and no one wants to see them.
This was our first time ordering a Croatian wine. I asked the waiter if he could assist in some descriptions. He hesitated, and I figured he'd just make up some stuff that sounded good. Well, he asked what type of wine we typically like, and then suggested four, with lengthy descriptions of the flavor profiles, the grape, where they are grown, who made them, and more info than I needed quite frankly. We found most servers were well-versed in the local wines.
Indeed we found most servers were just fantastic all around. English is very widely spoken. In fact I was a little dismayed that there weren't more challenges with communication. That's one of the fun aspects of traveling to other countries: trying to figure it all out. In Croatia, everyone's English is quite good...aside from the cops at the police station, with whom I spoke for an hour. But that's another story.
One sip of this Pošip and I knew I had a new best friend and favorite white wine. Bright, crisp, mouth-watering, fruits, a hint of oak, son-of-a-gun this was a delicious chewy wine. I couldn't wait to get some seafood in my face to pair with it. Oh, and it was 12 bucks. At a restaurant no less.
First up was prawns in lemon juice. I must admit, I was picturing large shrimp, perhaps in the shell, and grilled, with lemon juice. But this dish, which we saw most places we visited, was small, sweet shrimp, barely cooked in lemon juice, with a healthy amount of olive oil. What we expected? No. Delicious and eye-opening? You betcha.
There's no reason marinated and grilled vegetables should taste as good as these. When I make them they're awful and forgettable. Not here. Superb stuff here. Who knew a plate of vegetables would get a fat prick like me so excited? We returned to the restaurant some days later and ordered it again.
Tuna was simply grilled and drizzled with olive oil. Cooked to m/r as requested. Served with some stupidly good Swiss chard, and raw arugula. Simple and delicious.
When we returned for another meal, I ordered the "marinated white fish." Tender red mullet (IIRC), olive oil, and perhaps some onions cooked in red wine? I was pretty much full after eating this first course. But I managed to eat almost all of the following course.
There's a lot of squid ink floating around on the Dalmatian Coast. They seem to like it. I do like it. So I ordered the cuttlefish with squid ink. I've enjoyed versions of this dish in Spain and Italy, and Croatia for that matter, and they typically include rice. Here, it is chunks of tender cuttlefish swimming in black ink with broad beans. Gimme.
A stand-out was the mussels and clams with pasta. The missus (and I) isn't a big fan of mussels. They are typically big, rubbery, tough, and just not very good. The mussels we had in Croatia were small, tender, and sweet. Same with the clams. She was raving about this dish for days. It was near perfect.
The salt is local and the bread is excellent. Start by dipping that bread in olive oil with some salt. Wash it down with local wine. Soak in the sun. Repeat.