Sushi and Truffle Fusion in Zadar

Total Croatia News

Jo Ahearne MW recently attended the annual Tuna, Sushi and Wine Festival in Zadar, and kindly sent us this report on February 11, 2017 or some rather intriguing fusion initiatives, and a little truffle hunting. 

Fusion food, love it or loathe it, is here to stay. Austrian born Wolfgang Puck is considered as one of the pioneers of fusion cuisine in the Californian restaurant scene in the 90’s. However, third generation Chinese-American, Richard Wing combined French and Chinese cooking as far back as the 60’s. In fact, in the UK fish and chips could be seen as an early fusion of ingredients stemming from Jewish, French, Belgian cuisines.

Asking Mr Nakatsuji about his favourite non-Japanese food his immediate answer is the truffle. He is famous for his Euro-Japanese food in his native land so it’s no surprise that he is playing with a combination of the two while he is in Croatia. Somehow it seems fitting to pair the ‘diamond of the sea’ with the ‘diamond of the kitchen’.

The Kraljevski winery restaurant just outside of Zadar is the place where the results of his experiments were put on show. Their agronomist Marina Radulić explains that this 25 ha vineyard site was planted in 2010 on rocky soil with Plavac Mali, Crljenak and Pošip. There is another vineyard nearby of 15ha planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Žilavka, Plavina and Yellow Muscat and a winery in the city. Each dish is to be paired with one of their wines. But first the hunt for truffles must begin.

I’d never heard of truffles in Zadar but our hunter guide and his faithful dog found them. He originally hailed from Istria where he hunted truffles. On retiring to Zadar he set about searching for these exquisite fungi. It took about three years to find his first truffle. He could see that the conditions were right for growing truffles with abundance of crnika (Holme oak) trees where the tuber can take hold.

He uses the lagotto romagnolo breed of dog which, due to its loyal temperament and heightened sense of smell, responds well to training for truffle hunting. He’s a cute ball of fur who unceremoniously stops for a pee in the middle of the gaggle of journalists as we set off in search of truffles. He readily admits that this particular ball of fur isn’t the best truffle dog in the world but he gets bucket loads of praise every time he finds a truffle and the two of them seem wonderfully content scrubbing around the undergrowth.

The ideal temperatures to grow truffles are warm summers (mean daily temperatures around 20 degrees) and cool winters (mean daily temperatures around 5 degrees). This season has had extended periods of very cold weather which adversely effected the soil temperature so there aren’t that many truffles around. In any one year he finds between 20 and 100kg of black truffles around the area. After a successful forage in the undergrowth the dog finds a few truffles and we head back to the restaurant.

The menu starts with prošut sushi with shaved black truffle and a drizzle of truffle oil. The sushi rice has been adapted so as not to overpower the European flavours. The dish is balanced perfectly. Each element stands its own and is not overpowered by the other. The 2015 Pošip is equally balanced with the food providing a fresh creamy lemon element to the dish and great concentration.

We move onto carpaccio of lightly seared tuna, a dash of teriyaki sauce and shaved truffle. This is accompanied by a rosé made from Crljenak Kastelanski and Merlot. The tuna is exquisite but sadly the sauce overwhelms the dish a little but the rosé provides a good match for the flavours.

(Spicy toro tuna with miso)

The next dish is spicy toro tuna seared but still red inside served cold with miso sauce. It’s a fabulous dish with diced green pepper and sesame seeds for texture a lovely chilli kick at the end. It overpowers the 2014 red Crljenak Kastelanski a little but this wine comes into it own with the veal and lamb peka tossed in truffle sauce with tagliatelle. The wine has lovely concentration with a hint rather than dollop of oak. Peka is Mr Nakatsuji’s favourite Croatia dish and, although the presentation is not fusion, the inclusion of Zadar truffles is not exactly traditional. In Japan they don’t eat lamb or veal and he loves the succulence and tenderness of the young meat.

(Peka with truffle sauce)

The meal comes to a close with a tremendously sweet and light chocolate and truffle mousse. A glass of dry Muscat cuts through the sweetness nicely and the taste of the truffle lingers at the end. We’ve been serenaded by Dalmatian songs with a roaring fire and as I leave I check to see if the truffle-hunting ball of fur is still around but he’s long gone. No doubt tucked up somewhere safe and cosy till the next day’s work begins.


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