Tag Archives: Venison

Bitoraj – A Temple of Game Dishes

Entering the Fužine’s hotel Bitoraj gives you almost an impression of what’s on the menu. First greeting may well be with a stuffed bear and other forest wild animals that are traditionally part of the Gorski kotar cuisine. But very soon you will find out that you are in excellent hands of Mr Andrej Kauzlarić, a descendent of the long family tradition in running this hotel and restaurant, that was opened in 1933 as the tourist house Neda.

This historical site is totally refurbished in 2007 and in its new glory welcomes tourists from all over the globe. It has 18 double rooms, special Aphrodite’s room, and all the necessities needed in a four-star hotel. But the hotel is far more famous for its offer of the autochthonic meals of Gorski kotar, often followed by live music (Andrej plays as well). Its cuisine? Well, in one word: amazing!

Nothing of meals we’ve tried – and we did try a lot – came from a shop. Every single thing in this restaurant is carefully chosen, mostly bought from the local producers in this Croatian mountain region or the interior. This includes drinks as well, and the first surprising taste was of brinjevac, a brandy made from juniper, also known in Croatia as šmrika, klek, or borovica. Used as a folk medicine, this herby brandy contains 60% alcohol! A solid aperitif evokes ideas of friendly gathering in some mountain hut in the vicinity; one bottle would do the trick! Almost all other hard drinks come from the Fužine’s neighbour Vid Arbanas, whose brandies and liqueurs rest upon the generational knowledge of making drinks from the nature.

In order to show us what kind of small bites are possible in Bitoraj, Mr Kauzlarić welcomed us with Highlander’s plate, consisting of deer prosciutto, boar salami, homemade pancetta, deep-fried frog legs, oyster mushrooms filled with prosciutto and cheese, and four kinds of škripavac cheese. Flavours abound on this forest menu, showing the basis of fine dining in the Gorski kotar region. Prosciutto and salami are dark, rich in taste and a bit spicy, as one would expect from the game. If eaten alone, be sure to drink a lot of water – or beer.

Yes, beer. No, it is not a crazy idea and gastronomic horror of combining prosciutto with beer, as the heavy food was traditionally eaten with beer. The owners are very careful of having draft beer in house, and recall of brewery working across the street. Memories of the old times didn’t break our solid will to continue our lunch with Agrolaguna and Palinkaš wines. And if you think beer is not a good option – you are always left with brinjevac!

Most foreigners would be surprised with frog legs. Both in Lokve and in Fužine, this was a traditional dish for locals, as the edible frogs abound in the area full of water. Once someone told me that all amphibians and crocodiles taste like chicken. Frogs are not an exception, but still it can have a distinctive watery flavour in the background. And you can always be a hero when you come home as you’ve eaten a frog without kissing it!

Personal choice for the best thing on the plate is cheese. Škripavac is well known cheese of Croatian mountain regions of Gorski kotar and Lika, and its name stems from the sound it makes when biting it. The cheese served in Bitoraj comes from Josipdol’s excellent cheese dairy farm Miščević and it comes in four varieties: plain, with homemade herbs, with peppers, and deep-fried. It is absolutely amazing how solid it remains when deep-fried, which is due to its instant shocking on -50 degrees. When prepared, the cheese is put frozen on the hot oil. Tremendously good and very milky.

Fužine is a place where continental and maritime climate collide. The result is much rain, winds from all sides of the world, but also a tasteful combination of influences on the table. We were presented with Highland risotto and Mushroom pasta. The highland risotto is made with deer prosciutto and apple, a great combination and meaty-sour blend, a solid choice for warm appetizer if you like strong tastes. The mushroom pasta is simple token of woodlands in combination with classic Istrian fuži pasta.

Another appetizer was frog legs’ brodetto, with polenta and pumpkin seed oil. Mild brodetto gives plenty of taste to frogs; indeed, more restaurants serving frog legs should keep in mind there is a lot more to the deep-fried frog legs. And while the frogs are really good, the pumpkin seed oil gives a finishing touch. In combination with polenta it is a rare example of using this oil in near-coastal area of Croatia. Pumpkins are more continental brand, starting from Vrbovsko, also in Gorski kotar, but without much influence in the traditional foods. Thus, bravo for the idea!

A refreshing retreat was two kinds of soup: an ordinary mushroom soup (always replenishing and hearty) and horseradish soup. Horseradish is popular sidedish, either fresh or as a sauce. But to make a soup from it? The taste is far from your imagination. It is a bit spicy but very refreshing and calls for more.

If you think we’ve done most of the work in Bitoraj, you are heading to a surprise, just as we did. Grand main meal consisted of three signature dishes of this restaurant, and no wonder Bitoraj is on the list of 100 best Croatian restaurants for the 20th time! It might be difficult to choose where to start from these main dishes, but maybe the Highlander’s lunch is typical of the area.

It is the most traditional and most sold dish in Bitoraj, consisting of pork ribs, homemade sausage, baked pancetta, sauerkraut, and potatoes. A fatty bomb for more colder days was a normal diet for many decades now, showing a tremendous need for energy in an area known for harsh winters and rather short summers. There’s no particular suggestion for this meal, only be hungry enough to eat lavishly. And do you remember that beer we’ve mentioned in the beginning?

Then came baby boar, baked under the iron lid with potatoes. Soft and salty, it melts in mouth. Baked piglet is a standard offer of the house and excellent choice for anyone into the glorious cousin of our domesticated pig. They weigh some 10 kilos and can be found in continental Croatia, feeding in a special hunting areas where they feed with quality foods from the nature. The fact that piglets are not at all scared of human is their death-warrant: they are simply taken by hands and later prepared for the juicy and tasty meal. Don’t be shocked, that’s circle of nature!

And what would a highlander’s menu be without a bear? All praise should go to chef for making such soft bear steaks, with cranberries and deep-fried dumplings. Even for Croats, bear is not an everyday dish nor can be eaten in every region of Croatia. Mr Kauzlarić testifies his hard work in preparing bear meat, with constant controls of quality, but is too humble to admit it takes a real knowledge to master the hard and dark bear meat. Those who succeed can proudly be called a temple of the game dishes. And Bitoraj is exactly that!

Yes, we did have a dessert. It wasn’t a surprise any more that we had three kinds of berry strudels and gigantic kremšnita cakes. Blueberry strudel is so typical for Gorski kotar that Mr Kauzlarić tends to protect it as an industrial heritage. Local producers of forest berries, such as family homestead Borovnica, contribute to the widely shared recipe for this most beloved highlanders’ dessert.

Unavoidable point for every true gourmet lover, with dedicated staff and very kind owners, in a picturesque environment and pleasant climate, Bitoraj is pure happiness, fine dining, and homemade cuisine turned into a masterpiece. We toast a glass of brinjevac to that!

Hotel Bitoraj
Sveti križ 1, 51322 Fužine
Phone: 0038551835019, 0038551830005
E-mail: info@bitoraj.hr
Web: www.bitoraj.hr

 

Breza – Great Experience on the Edge of the Wild

On the very edge of Ravna Gora, where streets turn into paths that lead to the woodlands and hills, stands a culinary paradise Breza. The name itself may be misleading, as there are not so many birch trees in the neighbourhood, considering the evergreen forest practically on the doorstep of the restaurant. And this is one of the resources for exquisite cuisine of Breza.

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We were greeted by the owner Mrs Ivanka Jurković, whose stories about ordinary meals in Ravna Gora are a treasure of culinary knowledge. In Breza we got in touch with the really basics of Ravna Gora cuisine, as it once was, and as it is becoming popular again.

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One such thing is Ravna Gora gizzard, almost forgotten recipe of dried pork meat. Clear cutlet meat is minced and mixes together with finely chopped bacon and salt. Crushed garlic is mixed with two litres of water. This is added for three days to the mix. This mix is then used to fill the pork stomach. Here and there piece of black pepper is added. The stomach is then left to smoke. In a year, the stomach is ready for serving. Excellent appetizer, which we had as last stop on the menu.

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Our own starter was puff pastry filled with buckwheat, oatmeal, and mushrooms, with sour cream, cottage cheese, and parsley-and-rucola pesto on top. Full of buckwheat flavour and with great addition of sour cream, this starter is excellent balance of tastes. Barley is especially important here, as it is a heritage of old times. Today, more and more barley-based side dishes are available in our restaurants. Breza itself makes meat dishes with barley base.

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Main dish was deer steak in blueberry sauce, with addition of red onion marmalade and raspberry-and-blueberry butter. The sauce is not too sweet, which is excellent, as the meat gets more attention and clear aroma of venison. Onion marmalade is ingenious combination which fits great in the balance of flavours, while indeed curious butter made of forest berries gives freshness to the deer.

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Breza is indeed a perfect getaway in Ravna Gora. It boasts not only with excellent wine list, with superb continental red wines and glorified Istrian white wines, but also with whole accommodation package. Thus, you can sleep in Breza hotel, use conference hall, and enjoy the wellness after the trekking in the mountains or berry or mushroom picking in the woods. We have spent great time with Mrs Jurković, who is indeed knowledgeable about the old traditions and new innovations in the kitchen. After all, rewards on the wall tell this story far better.

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Breza

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Stjepana Radica 10, 51314 Ravna Gora
Tel: +385 51 818 317
Fax: +385 51 819 100
GSM: +385 91 311 09 69
www.breza-rg.hr
Email: jumi@ri.t-com.hr

Bear Steak in Bijela Ruža

Since 1968 the owners of Bijela Ruža (White Rose) have been preparing venison, mushrooms, and forest fruits, among other gastronomy offer. This long tradition is a symbol of good quality, not only in the restaurant itself, but in its accommodation and mountain hut.

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(Photo by Bijela Ruža)

We enjoyed the hospitality of Mr Romeo Marević, who welcomed us although he had two full buses of people arriving unexpectedly to his restaurant! After some introduction, we were first customers to get the lunch. On plate we had a mountain region’s classic: bear steak in blueberry sauce and homemade dumplings.

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Bear is nowadays often on the highland’s menus in Croatia. Still, it is almost a masterpiece to make a good bear steak. Mostly you will find bear stew, as it is easier to soften the wild meat. To have a soft bear steak full of flavour is worth of praising. And the one we had in Bijela ruža was just like that.

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The bear steaks are left in mix of carrots, garlic, onions, and spices from five up to ten days, to soften the meat as much as possible. What distinguishes the steak we tried is the sauce. It is made in rich and sweet blueberry sauce, with distinctive dark red colour, aroma of sweet venison, and with mild and soft flavour of bear meat.

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(Photo by Bijela ruža)

Additionally, homemade dumplings fit excellent with bear meat and sweet sauce. They are made according to an old recipe, using old bread. It is made with eggs, and pieces of bacon are added. Thus, it has a strong flavour of bacon inside. It helps greatly with the main dish, as the sauce may be a bit too sweet for some people.

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But sweet tooth should not despair. Famous highland blueberry strudel is a must for anyone seeking to finish the lunch in ordinary manner! Sweet and sour taste of this cake is legendary and many people come to Gorski kotar just to taste it.

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(Photo by Bijela Ruža)

Apart from bear steak, there is also venison steak and schnitzel, wild boar steak, and deer steak. They come in various sauces, mostly blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, or mushroom sauce. For true hunting experience, one should try venison, bear and wild boar salami and prosciutto. Mushroom dishes abound, and especially interesting is wild mushroom stew, as well as some other mushroom ideas.

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(The Mountain House, photo by: Bijela Ruža)

If you feel tired, Bijela ruža offers accommodation in the house, but more spectacular things are about to happen. New glass roof will be added to the swimming pool – who would resist to bath under the snow falling above your head?!

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(Owner Mr Romeo Marević)

Bijela ruža (White Rose)
I.G. Kovacica 16, 51314 Ravna Gora, Croatia
Telephone: +385 (0)51 818 444
Fax: +385 (0)51 819 030
Mobile: +385 (0)98 442 358
E-mail: bijelaruza@hi.t-com.hr
http://www.bijela-ruza.hr

Photos by: Dino Džepina

Restaurant Gradina, Josipdol

Prime position to taste wild game in this region is Restaurant Gradina, in the very centre of old Muljava in Josipdol. This restaurant, chosen 14 times as one of the hundred best in Croatia, is famous for its game dishes, including deer, boar, roe deer, and bear, and for its lamb on the spit, such an essential part and brand of the mountainous Croatian gastronomy. Since 1995 this restaurant is proudly run by the family Pavlić.

We were welcomed with excellent homemade brandy (rakija) and with huge smile of Mrs Anita Pavlić, who spent whole time with us, talking about the traditional cuisine of the Josipdol region. Apart from the restaurant itself, the family also has beehives and first honey products are already produced. Every guest may expect to find a small honey gift. Bees usually make meadow honey, with beautiful yellow colour and sweet taste. This honey is also used for many desserts, mostly strudel, that house prepares for its guests.

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Love for the family business is seen in every thought and recipe in this place. It is proud to offer domestic and homemade products, and to sit and dine in Gradina is almost as savouring the tastes of every Josipdol household. One such experience is to taste Miščević cheese, which blends superbly with the venison pate, beautiful and tasteful pate with spicy twist, and served on crunchy toast bread. Definitely an enjoyment by its own standard!

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Gradina is proud on its boletus cream soup with sour cream, a rich and creamy and refreshing soup made with fresh boletus. But where the heart of guests really lies is stuffed roe deer with homemade polenta and gnocchi. And while roe deer can be praised by itself, according to a very subjective opinion, the polenta is top dish on the plate. The reason is simple; it is made in old way, using the power of the watermill, with rich taste and special granulate substance. It is made by a single woman in Josipdol, as undying memory of the old time. Polenta was once used throughout the day, tells us Anita Pavlić. It was staple food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Now it adorns game dishes, including the roe deer filled with carrots, pickles and bacon. Soon it will be served with fresh Ogulin sauerkraut. By itself, roe deer is full of taste and richly seasoned, but next to polenta and additionally gnocchi it makes several very recognisable and joyful tastes. Gnocchi are made from Lika potato, which is rich in starch, as the Lika environment has substantial difference between day and night. Thus, it is excellent for baking, but also for making gnocchi.

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Our culinary journey was accomplished with help of beautiful Plavac of Ivan Dolac, one of the premium Croatian red wines, excellent for game dishes. Next to it, the restaurant offers famous wines from Ozalj-Vivodina wine area, notably Vrbanek. Awarded local blackberry liqueur of OPG Belavić is great addition to desserts because of its sweetness.

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And Gradina cares also for its sweet tooth, especially strudels and štrukle, made with cheese, vegetables or mushrooms, or in sweet version with cranberries, blackberries, and walnuts. One of the more curious dessert is the carrot strudel, a quite special cake which has its tradition in the local area. The carrot is simmered in butter until it gets dry; double cream and milk cream is added, as carrot is tender in more fat. Occasionally vanilla is added to boost the flavour. This is really good dessert, especially if you are not fan of really sweet cookies.

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By far, Gradina is among the best places on old Josephine road from Karlovac toward the sea, and very much worth of detour to your final destination.

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Restoran Gradina
Senjska 32, 47303 Josipdol
info@restoran-gradina.hr
http://www.restoran-gradina.hr
tel: 00385 47 581 515