Sunday, June 28, 2009

Inventive Croatian Cuisine in Dubrovnik

Until last night, I didn’t think it was possible to find creative Dalmatian cooking in Dubrovnik; I was proven wrong by Sesame, an unassuming and charming restaurant just outside of Old Town’s Pile Gate. I have not seen another restaurant in Dubrovnik take such care about where it sources its ingredients, how fresh they are, and how they are used to construct truly inventive local dishes.

Upon arrival at Sesame we were promptly seated on the leafy terrace by our friendly and knowledgeable waiter Dejan. Dinner started with an aperitif: a local spirit flavored with sage for the men and one flavored with walnuts for the women. To begin we ordered fresh oysters from Ston (known to be the best in Croatia) and a salad made with fresh figs, prosciutto, and rucola, all served with fresh-baked sesame rolls and a selection of incredible olive oils sourced from Istria. This was followed by our main courses, which included a delicate filet of sole with fresh prawn, a beautifully presented sea bass, and veal with prosciutto in a sage sauce.

The most creative and wonderfully surprising dish of the night was the chocolate mousse dessert: a rich, thick chocolate mousse topped with Croatian olive oil and black volcanic salt from Hawaii. This dish really spotlights the creativity and genius of the chef/co-owner Marina Zilbert. Sesame is fairly expensive for Dubrovnik (starters from 60 to 80 Kuna and mains from 75 to 190 Kuna), but it is well worth the price for such a unique dining experience.

Sesame is located at Dante Alighieria bb; reservations may be made by calling +385 20 412 910 or +385 91 500 8647.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parking Near Dubrovnik's Old Town

One of the many features that make Dubrovnik’s Old Town so attractive is its pedestrian-only streets. However, this ban on vehicular traffic makes arriving by car and finding parking very difficult. After a slew of recent changes in parking laws, the local government has finally returned to the original rules that have served us well for the past few years.

With the return to the old rules, visitors can now park for as long as they like using the “pay & display” system or for free on some parts of Petra Kresimira IV and Frana Supila. These are the two main streets in the Ploce neighborhood, just outside of the Old Town. In addition, visitors may park in two “pay & display” parking lots located just behind the Old Town, near the Buza Gate. Under this “pay & display” system, drivers may either buy a ticket from a machine and display it in their car windows or send an SMS (from a local Croatian mobile phone) with their registration number (license plate number) to 8202. They may then send additional SMS messages to add more time, one hour per message. Parking under this “pay & display” system costs 5 Kuna per hour*.

For those who cannot find a spot on the street or who plan to park for an extended period of time, the city has recently completed construction of a new underground parking garage located just 10–15-minutes’ walking distance to the Old Town. Here is a map that shows the location of the new garage:


View Larger Map

There is a free shuttle bus to the Old Town that leaves on every hour and half hour. It will also take passengers back to the garage on its return trip. The following is a price list for parking:

1st 3 hours: 6 Kuna per hour*
After 1st 3 hours: 3 Kuna per hour*
24 hour ticket**: 60 Kuna*

*These were the parking rates as of 24 June 2009. Rates may increase to 10 Kuna per hour during July & August.

**Please note that drivers must notify the parking attendant that they wish to buy a 24-hour pass immediately after parking. If they do not, they will be charged the normal hourly rate, which will equal 81 Kuna for 24 hours. Once a 24-hour pass is purchased, drivers may enter and exit the garage as many times as they like within a 24-hour period.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dubrovnik Film Festival

Next week will mark the kick-off of the 5th annual Libertas Film Festival in Dubrovnik. The festival, which will take place from 26 to 30 June, screens narratives, documentaries, and short films from around the world. This year there will be a special focus on films from Hungary with three films submitted by Hungarian directors. The festival will be moving outdoors this time, with venues that include Jadran open-air cinema in the Old Town, Banje beach, and Lapad beach. Don't miss this fantastic opportunity to see some great independent films in beautiful, historic surroundings.

A schedule of films and information on where to buy tickets can be found on the Libertas Film Festival website.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bell-issima!

One of the best and most unique dining experiences in Croatia can be found high above Dubrovnik in the hills of Konavle. A pair of restaurants, Konoba Konavle in Vojski Do and Konavoski Komin in Velji Do, serve traditional lamb and veal "under the iron bell". This centuries-old cooking method involves slow cooking meat and potatoes on a platter covered by an iron dome or "bell" by burying it in smoldering embers. The meat and potatoes cook for 3 to 4 hours producing tender meat that falls off the bone and slightly caramelized potatoes that absorb the flavor of the meat. The meal is accompanied by wonderful fresh-baked bread and salad.


All products at both restaurants are locally produced, including the prsut, cheese, and olives that are served as a starter, the excellent house wine, and the rakija (herb grappa or walnut brandy) that may be enjoyed as an aperitif or digestif. The restaurants are located far from anything else, in an alien-like landscape, but the superb quality of food, reasonable prices, and beautiful rustic décor attract guests from miles around. When visiting Konavoski Komin, make sure to leave extra time to stop and enjoy the spectacular views of the coastline on the way to dinner. Booking at both restaurants is essential as meat "under the iron bell" must be ordered one day in advance.

Reservations and pre-orders may be made by calling the following numbers:

Konoba Konavle - +385 98 674 363

Konavoski Komin - +385 20 479 607

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dubrovnik Parking Restrictions Reversed

Dubrovnik's new parking restrictions, which were implemented in March 2006 (New Parking Rules in Dubrovnik), have now been reversed, once again allowing visitors to park at "pay & display" spots or free spots within walking distance of the Old Town. The restrictions limited parking in most of the Ploce & Pile neighborhoods to local residents with parking permits. With the return to the old rules, visitors can now park for as long as they like using the "pay & display" system or for free on some parts of Petra Kresimira IV and Frana Supila.

What brought about the sudden lifting in parking restrictions? According to locals it was a last-minute effort by then-Mayor Dubravka Suica to gather support on the eve of the Mayoral election. The parking restrictions were very unpopular among most locals and it is said that Suica needed to give the people what they wanted if she had a chance of coming out on top on 31 May. The move turned out to be too little, too late as Suica, a member of Croatia's HDZ party, was defeated by Andro Vlahusic and his center-left HNS party. However ineffective for Suica, this bit of political maneuvering will certainly make the parking situation easier for visitors to Dubrovnik this summer.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Croatian Coffee Culture

Coffee drinking is one of Croatia's favorite pastimes. It's generally done with friends or family at a café, which is the local neighborhood meeting place for most Croatians, much like the pub in Ireland. Locals have perfected the art of "taking a coffee", as it is called, often making a single coffee last for hours. This is mostly because the experience is not really about drinking coffee, but more about socializing. However, there's no doubt that the relatively high price of coffee in Croatia has something to do with it too.

So, all visitors to Croatia (and especially Dubrovnik) must take the time to sit and "take a coffee" at least once during their stay. Coffee drinks served at most cafes are similar to those served in Italy or in Austria; after all, Croatia inherited its coffee drinking culture from these nations. Popular drinks include the cappuccino, bijela kava (white coffee, like a café latte), and espresso. For Americans looking for American-style filter coffee, you won't find it here; the closest thing is an americano, which is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water. Also popular with locals is Nescafe, an instant coffee drink made from a powder; it's fairly sweet and not as strong as a real espresso drink. One other drink worth mentioning is the iced coffee; in most cases this is not just coffee on ice, but a drink with espresso and ice cream.

Now that you know what to order, the only question left is where to enjoy your coffee. Croatia, and Dubrovnik in particular, has no shortage of cafes. The cafes lining the Stradun in Dubrovnik's Old Town certainly look inviting, but there are a few things to consider first. A coffee on the Stradun can cost as much as twice that of one just a couple of streets away. In addition, during the summer months most of the other patrons will be tourists. Of course, I'm not suggesting that you shun the Stradun all together; a coffee in the sun on Dubrovnik's most famous street can be an unforgettable experience. For a genuine feel, I suggest taking a seat at Café Festival, the only café on the Pile end of the Stradun. Or for a truly old-world Viennese style coffee house, check out GradsKavana, just off of the Stradun near St. Blaise church and Rector's Palace.

Outside of the Old Town the price for coffee drops dramatically, but the choices do not. There are several nice cafes on the pedestrian-only Setaliste Kralja Zvonimira in Lapad, and Iva Vojnovica is home to several modern, trendy café bars popular with young locals. You'll know it by the line of Mercedes parked on the street and the Gucci and Prada sunglasses peering out from inside the cafes. Another great, but expensive, option is to have a coffee in one of the many beautiful hotels in Dubrovnik. I particularly recommend the Dubrovnik Palace in Lapad for the great coffee, good service, and spectacular views. The service and coffee are also tops at the Hilton Imperial Hotel and the Hotel Bellevue.

If you enjoy drinking coffee, I would suggest trying a few different cafes until you find one that suits you. It may turn out to be a small café frequented only by locals or one of the busy cafes on Stradun with tourists vying for the best tables. Either way, you will have experienced an important part of Croatian culture by taking the time "to take a coffee."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Local Dubrovnik Buses

The local Libertas bus is a great way to get around Dubrovnik. Most buses originate at either the main bus station in Gruz Harbor or the Pile Gate entrance to Old Town. From the Old Town, buses run frequently to Gorica, Lapad, Bosanka, Mlini, Soline, Plat, Cavtat, Gruda, and Molunat. They also go north to Mokosica, Zaton, Slano, Mali Ston, and once per day to Orebic. Most trips cost 10 Kuna and tickets may be purchased in cash on the bus or at the bus station. Exact change is required when purchasing tickets on the bus.

Schedules for Dubrovnik city bus routes can be viewed here: Dubrovnik City Buses.

Schedules for Dubrovnik suburban bus routes can be viewed here: Dubrovnik Suburban Buses.