Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Zagreb: Agava Restaurant--Mediterranean & Croatian Specialties (Part 3)

On Friday evening, my first night in Zagreb, I'd done some prior research and decided to dine at the Agava Restaurant, located at 39 Tkalčićeva Street. Agava opened in 2005, and is operated by owner/partner Chef Belizar Miloš, who previously worked at the famed hotel Esplanade in Zagreb. The restaurant has received numerous positive reviews, from a variety of sources, and was one of only four Croatian restaurants to receive the Bib Gourmand award in the Michelin Guide 2019This is awarded to those restaurants that offer a good quality menu, simple but skillful cooking, and cost under 40 Euros for three courses. Their menu and wine list also were enticing, so I made my choice.

On the street level, there is patio seating (great for people watching) but I opted to dine inside, and climbed the stairs up the hill, which would provide me a different viewpoint.

Inside the restaurant, there are a few small rooms, as well as their bar. It has a warm and welcoming vibe, almost as if you were dining in someone's reconfigured home.

I was seated next to one of the front windows, with a view onto Tkalčićeva Street.

The food menu is separated into two sections, Mediterranean dishes and raditional Croatian dishes. A Tasting Menu is also available, 5 courses for 420 kuna ($63 US) with an optional wine pairing for an additional 210 kuna ($31.50). The Mediterranean section features Starters (5 choices 68-110 kuna), such as Angus Beef Tartare or Foie Gras de Canard; Pasta & Risotto (3 choices 108-165 kuna), such as Ravioli with hummer, sweet tomato confit, burratina, & basil oil or Risotto with beetroot, foie gras mousse, & almond crocant; Soups (3 choices 42-49 kuna), such as Oxtail or French Onion; and Main Dishes (6 choices 85-329 kuna), such as Angus Beef Tenderloin, or Bluefin Tuna Steak.

The Croatian section features Starters (4 choices 48-87 kuna), such as Zagorski štrukli (Dough stuffed with fresh cheese & light cream) or Octopus SaladSalads (3 choices 25-89 kuna), and  Main Courses (3 choices 99-160 kuna), such as Dalmatian "Pašticada" with home made dumplings or Oven Baked Octopus. Prices are very reasonable.

The Wine List is primarily composed of Croatian wines, with some French Champagnes and a few Dessert wines from France and Portugal. There are about 19 wines available by the glass, in a 0.1 liter size, priced from 15-39 kuna ($2.25-$5.85 US). By the bottle, you'll find about 3 Croatian Sparkling Wines, 5 French Champagnes, 28 Croatian Whites, 2 Croatian Rosés, 26 Croatian Reds, and 9 Mixed Dessert Wines. The list has a diverse selection of Croatian wines and certainly is an excellent place to learn more about what Croatia has to offer. Many bottles cost from 155-300 Kuna ($23.25-$45.00 US), which are also comparatively very reasonable prices.

I started my meal with a glass of 2018 Dvanajščak Kozol Pušipel (26 kuna). This winery is located in the Međimurje region, which is adjacent to Hungary, and they started producing commercial wines in 1996. Pušipel is the Croatian term for the Furmint grape, which is native to Hungary and commonly used to crate the famous Tokaji dessert wine. I enjoyed this dry, fresh and fruity wine, which had excellent crisp acidity. There were bright lemon and green apples flavors, with a backbone of minerality, and this would do well with seafood, which happened to be my first pairing.

I began with a Starter of Wild Fish Tartare (98 kuna) with raspberry bonbons and dehydrated capers, topped with a bit of Croatian olive oil. The Sea Bass was fresh and delicious, silky smooth with a nice contrasting crunch of the capers and mild sweet of the raspberry. The olive oil added a touch of fruit with a hint of bitter.

The Tartare was accompanied with some warm bread, sprinkled with Croatian olive oil. This Starter was well presented, and an excellent beginning to my dining experience. The Pušipel worked well with this dish.

The 2018 Poletti Rossella (32 kuna) is a Rosé produced by a winery in the Istrian region. The Poletti winery has owned their farmland since 1842, and currently have 7 acres of vineyards, growing 6 different grapes. This Rosé is produced from Muškat Ruža, "Red Rose Muscat," a grape grown in a few areas within Istria but which is native to Italy, where it is better known as Moscato Rose del Trentino. I found this wine to be crisp and dry, with more rustic and herbal notes atop some cherry and cranberry flavors. An intriguing Rosé, which I also paired with some seafood.

For my second course, I chose the St. Jacques Shell (95 kuna), with a pepper coulis, black pig sausage, and lemon pearls. The silky scallops melted in my mouth, enhanced by the textures and flavors of the toppings. Tiny crunchy bits of pork, slightly spicy pepper, and the bright citrus of the lemon bubbles. Another winner of a dish, showcasing such excellent fresh seafood. The Rosé was a nice choice, especially how it interacted with the pepper coulis and the salt of the pork.

For my next wine, I opted for another from the Poletti Winery, their 2016 Poletti Teran (31 kuna). Teran, also known as Terrano, is a red grape, native to Croatia (the Istrian region), Slovenia and Italy, and its known history extends back nearly 700 years. I found this wine to have an alluring nose of black cherry with a subtle earthy element. On the palate, it was a bold wine, though with restrained tannins, tasty flavors of black cherry, raspberry and plum, a spicy backbone and some earthy notes. A moderately long finish, good acidity, and it worked with my truffle pasta dish.

For my entree, I opted for the Pasta "Fuži" with Black Truffles (160 kuna), a traditional Istrian dish. The compelling earthiness of the truffles wafted up as this dish was brought to the table. The pasta tubes were light, cooked to a nice al dente, and the creamy sauce wasn't overly heavy. Truffles certainly dominated this dish, though in a delicious way. I also liked the lightness of the pasta, which contributed to ensuring the dish wasn't overly heavy. The Istrian Teran wine worked with the truffles, the earthiness of the wine working with the truffles, and its acidity, cutting through the creamy sauce.

Though I didn't order dessert, my server brought over a complimentary glass of 2007 PZ Svirče Ivan Dolac Selection. PZ Svirče is a wine cooperative, of about 220 members, that was founded in 1997 and is located on the island of Hvar. Ivan Dollar is a protected wine region, situated on the sunny southern slopes of Hvar. This late harvest wine of Plavac Mali grapes is available only in excellent vintages, aged in barrique and only a couple thousand 500ml bottles are produced. It is a semi-sweet wine, with nice acidity, smooth tannins, and a delicious blend of red and black fruit flavors, with a touch of dark spice. This complex wine seduces your palate, and I was pleased to see this different expression of Plavac Mali.

What a superb dining experience in Zagreb! Not only were the food and wine excellent, but the service was excellent as well, attentive but not obtrusive, knowledgeable and personable. It is very reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of its dishes, and the wine list is very reasonable as well. This restaurant would stand out wherever it was located. It earns my highest recommendation and if you visit Zagreb, you definitely need to dine here.

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