NY Times has an article about rental car travel in the northern Croatia / southern Istria peninsula. Although there are modern and uncluttered tollways, there are also lots of rutted roads, difficult driving, but many delightful small towns.
It seems every town has a variation of the malvasia grape, and many are superb. The writer reports on many of them.
The waiter presented me with a bucket of the day’s catch. I selected the sarago, a sweet, fleshy white fish. It arrived perfectly grilled, following a chilled cuttlefish and squid salad and a bowl of tagliatelle with mussels, generously splashed with a brilliant local olive oil.
Oh, and he also brought out a carafe of white wine known as malvasia istriana, produced by a local winemaker named Frank Arman. Its color was limpid gold, and it possessed a subtle saltiness that rippled down my throat. In the sparkling little postcard world I found myself inhabiting that afternoon, the wine blended into the background — and that was its beauty: it was a peerless, understated accompaniment to the seafood, and it bound everything together. It was why I was in Istria in the first place.
Rovinj lies about 20 miles south of Porec and possesses the casual insouciance of the artist’s burg it happens to be. I dined that night at Monte, an airy and theatrically lighted restaurant presided over by a striking platinum-haired Dutch woman dressed all in white. The seven-course meal began with semi-crudi of tuna, scampi and scallop heated with a propane torch and served on a bed of seashells, pebbles and rosemary sprigs. It reached its zenith with a slow-roasted suckling pig accompanied by pork rind and paprika foam. You can bet that great malvasia and olive oil (the latter served in test tubes) was within reach. All in all, Monte delivered an agreeably clever spin on the region’s oceanic and inland staples, with flourishes indicative of Istria’s portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man status today.