Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Riva Boduli is historically one of the major docklands in Port of Rijeka. For hundreds of years, it was a place where ships were loaded and unloaded, while in the background still vibrates the main Rijeka’s market. This market is simply called Placa, a Slavic version of ever-present European name for a town’s belly: Piazza in Italian or Platz in German, all meaning (market)square. Both Italian and German influence is traceable, in cuisine and architecture, lifestyle and heritage. Venice and Austria-Hungary framed the gastronomic tastes and aromas in Rijeka, which still is the most cosmopolitan town of the Croatian Adriatic coast.
Exactly at this point Rade Malobabić and Ivan Tomašević run their restaurant Placa 51 (the number is postcode for Rijeka). They welcomed on a lazy Friday afternoon our hungry team that was dedicated to the idea of spring detoxication using the best of asparagus time. Luckily, we didn’t stop on this healthy diet, as we ventured into seafood and meat classically offered at this place. Conveniently settled close to Rijeka’s seafront and market, Placa 51 attracts both brunch-goers and fans of good and balanced cuisine. As always, we greeted the hosts by taking a sip of homemade pear brandy (viljamovka), whose scent is better than its taste and vice versa. A beautiful pear in the glass reminded us how glad we are that spring finally came to this northernmost part of the Adriatic.
Springily feeling came also with our appetizer, refreshing seasonal salad with smoked pork loin (from home grown pig), phenomenal sheep curd from Gligora cheese production on island of Pag, dandelion, watercress and – the star of the menu – wild asparagus. Struck by spring on plate, we almost avoided using great apple-based vinegar Acetto di Mele Due Vittorie, but we did enjoy to the fullest the use of Mate olive oil. This extra-virgin delight comes from Zambratija, the northern tip of Istrian peninsula, and is widely used in the Placa 51 cuisine. As springily, floral and fresh as this plate was, so is the Krauthaker Graševina white wine. Definitely a perfect blend, suggested by obviously knowledgeable waiter Marko Andričević, known also for being shy in front of camera.
Every guest in Placa 51 will have a chance to see the chefs working. Part of the kitchen is in open sight for everyone and the skills are easily detectible. Salad bar features fresh vegetables but also cheese and dried meat. Rade and Ivan give finishing touches to every meal here, while su-chef Marijana Kunjek carefully helps to give every meal a stunning appearance. Such is the beef burger, which we didn’t try, but we sensed unmistakeably perfect scent of excellent meat. No wonder Placa 51 is selected to be among 100 restaurants in Gault&Millau Croatia 2018 guide!
Our detoxication went on with another fresh spring plate featuring probably the best risotto we have tried lately in Rijeka. Rice is just perfect, not too hard, not overcooked, and blessed with broad beans, shrimps and asparagus, served on fresh ricola and spread with bear leek oil and Grana Padano cheese. Green-and-white combination is perfect companion for a spring day, ideally spent close to the seaside. Delicate risotto should always be accompanied with balanced wine, and such is Geržinić’s Malvasia. Blending spring risotto with this wine made us to clean the plates in a record time.
Jolly atmosphere of the place changes during the day. Late morning and early afternoon is busy with brunches and very good prices for meals whose ingredients come from nearby market. Later in the day guests can enjoy rustic-urban style of the restaurant or small terrace where one can soak the vibrancy of port city. Some 20 delicious dishes are offered to guests, catering to all major wishes. And those who expect over-simplicity, they should think better.
Take the veal shank for example. This popular meat dish is a showcase of culinary masterpiece – the shank with bone is prepared for 16 hours in 70 degrees and then served with beautiful cream made of Lika’s potatoes and bear leek together with absolutely gorgeous cheese foam made as a mix of Grana Padano and Grobnik cheese. A touch of spring onion and carrots and this main dish soon becomes an elaborative blend of regional specialties!
This place is also very cosy for a short stop, a glass of wine with some excellent cheesecake. Or you may opt for white chocolate mousse with vanilla and strawberries or for excellent 70 per cent black chocolate mousse, served with coffee crumble and baked strawberries. Add just a touch of olive oil to it and you will receive a sweet master-taste!
For a restaurant situated close to the marketplace and with a dedication to brunches, Placa 51 is astonishing surprise in Rijeka’s gastronomy. But it is far more than that; its owners have brilliant culinary minds, offering elaborative yet simple dishes based on fresh ingredients and with regional accent. Truly a place all gastronomads should visit!
Placa 51 Riva Boduli 3a, Rijeka 00385 51 546 454 https://www.facebook.com/placa51/