Rovinj is one of the most romantic cities in Croatia, and many couples in love have certainly visited the snack bar Rio on the Rovinj waterfront. Rio is a gastronomic institution of the city of St. Euphemia, and romance is not just a common phrase, says a lady in a restaurant where she comes regularly since 1981, that is since she got married and had a wedding in Rovinj. The organization of the wedding was taken over by Corrado Pellizzer, a legend of Rovinj and Istrian catering. Corrado died in 2020, but his cheerfulness, hospitality and charisma still live on in his four restaurants: Puntulina, Giannino, Bugadur and Rio.
Each of these four restaurants brings something special, and Rio has been a place for morning coffee and brunch since 1968. However, changes have taken place here as well, space has been modernized, and for many guests, it is a step further in the preparation of the tastiest and freshest seafood, which is a permanent feature of all Corrado's restaurants. You don't have to look far to find fishing boats, because they are already on the Aldo Rismondi coast, and the restaurant manager Davide Kmet - Gigi gets up at the crack of dawn so that the best fish would come to Rio's daily offer!
All that freshness has already been found in our first appetizer that comes with a great champagne, a dry malvasia brut from the Medea winery. It is the cuttlefish season and on the table we found this sea mollusc with spring onions, boiled potatoes, celery, olive oil and pepper. Spring is the time when cuttlefish are a welcome food on the Adriatic table, although there are people all along the coast who remember it as an unwelcome catch in fishing nets. On the other hand, in great demand here is fresh tuna prepared as tartar on a celery root basis. It goes great with toasted bread with which it makes excellent snacks while looking through the glass wall of the Rio snack bar towards the sun-drenched old town of Rovinj. In order to ensure a strong Istrian presence, there is also white cod, served on polenta, as a delicious and highly sought-after appetizer that connects Istria with the flavours of the rest of the northern Adriatic!
All this is skillfully brought to us by Gigi, who was offered the job of running the Rio restaurant after many years of working with Corrado in Giannino. While chef Radomir Oreščanin delivers enticing flavours from the kitchen, the tables on the terrace and right by the sea are filling at an unprecedented rate. This is really no wonder for perhaps the oldest and certainly the most famous cafe in Rovinj.
Here the people of Rovinj sit every day for morning coffee, and a light glance at the clock shows that it is already time for brunch, so many decide to stay and simply indulge in these great flavours and aromas. They are skillfully balanced as we learned by tasting ravioli stuffed with homemade cow’s ricotta and truffles. The knowledgeable hand of the chef knows that thin line where truffles can take over the whole dish and this is an extremely rare case when we suddenly feel both ricotta and truffles.
Before that, we enjoyed the milder flavours of Istrian shrimp and scallops with pasta, which is skilfully produced in the nearby Mia Zia factory. You may not have heard of it, but you certainly will, because it is a newly opened production of a young entrepreneur who recognized the ever-growing demand for homemade pasta for which Istria is so famous and appreciated. When it is combined with scallops, then you get an excellent gastronomic experience because these shellfish are meaty and rich in taste and go well with other seafood like sweet shrimp. All with the great young Malvasia Radovan 2020, which with its fruity aromas of apple and peach goes well with Istrian seafood.
Gigi doesn't spare us, both with new culinary scenes for photos and surprises that follow one after another. In Rio, they have developed a great form of the menu: instead of reading a series of dishes, the staff brings fresh fish and seafood in an antique wooden box, just to help fishermen display their catch. In that casket, you can find all the treasures of the Rovinj underwater world, from blue and white fish to shellfish and shrimp. Rio is not a place for the best meat dishes, but when they are on the daily menu, they are also a welcome culinary break from the sea. This is especially true of traditional Istrian meat offerings such as boškarin and various stews.
Our main dish though was seafood. It contained an extremely juicy tuna steak, with beautiful colour and texture of meat, as well as an excellent gilthead sea bream fillet. Grilled squid turned up, as did shrimp, which with their sweet taste complemented the platter accompanied by potatoes and vegetables. Malvasia Coronica Moreno 2019 complemented this sea beauty with its firmness and every bite required more. All this reflects the flavours of ancient Rovinj taverns - spacio, where the natural taste of fish, crabs and shellfish was nurtured with salt, pepper, vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, polenta, kale, chicory and various salads that sprout on red soil in the immediate vicinity of the city.
The sweet end of our stay in Rovinj's culinary legend was a great semifreddo with hazelnuts, blueberries and forest fruit sauce. With all the sea freshness up to this point, the dessert blended unmistakably into the feast that stretches for hours in Rio. The atmosphere is great, the staff is extremely friendly and professional, so it is not surprising that all this combination gave great results. Certainly, Corrado is smiling from the heights of heaven on his legacy, and we just have to plan our next visit to Rovinj!
Snack Bar Rio
Obala Alda Rismonda 13, 52210, Rovinj
+385 52 813 564
Photos: Cristiano Dias