My Little Zagreb By 

ONE STEP CLOSER TO THE MICHELIN’S STAR


This is not a classic story about some restaurant in Zagreb, it’s not food critique, nor a promotion. It would be pretty pretentious of me to swim in those waters with such great restaurants in my sight. But I do have some bragging rights, don’t I? I tend to eat at so called „fancy“ places so my gastro senses are getting stronger. They are getting better at separating the good stuff from the bad every day. Basically, either I go nuts for some place or I elope it in the widest circle I can. So you can say I’m not the right person to critique food anywhere, there are certified establishments that deal with that on a much higher level… but we’ll get there in time.

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Let’s get back to our story. This is story about a love that I feel towards food and cooking food and everything the food does to my senses. It’s about two people who run a restaurant in the heart of Zagreb and that with an almost stubborn ease and excellence that amazes. Story about love that keeps on growing and evolving. Not a job. A life call.

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In more simple and understandable way, it’s a story about two girls, me and my photographer Marija, who decided to visit this amazing place called Boban. We’ve set a meeting with its director Iva Jurković. We wanted to come sooner but life has its own way of letting you know when the time is just perfect. And life appeared in a form of a good Samaritan that basically said: „Here girls, this is your chance, don’t let it slip away”. And boy we didn’t. And neither did the two Michelin inspectors that were at the same place few weeks earlier and awarded the place with an exceptional form of recommendation.

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On the other hand, I still haven’t started with the story. Should I start with amazing meals that have already been there upon our arrival? Or that amazing conversation that was totally casual and relaxed the moment we got there. Or that amazing atmosphere and my constant overlooking to that table that was filled with meals my diet just couldn’t handle… yeah, life is hard sometimes :-) !

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APPETIZER

A big, round plate appeared in front of us. It was an artwork of starters – specially designed for us so we could try every single thing from that luxury offer in front that laid in front of us, and can be served in all sorts of ways, if you previously state your demands to the staff and the chefs. We were offered all sorts of Bruschetta on homemade bread, San Daniele prosciutto, salami di Felino, smoked goose breasts, lardo – creamy white pancetta, cottage cheese with truffles, sheep cheese Pecorino, Parmigiana – vegeterian dish, Italian classic; can be served as warm starters or cold one…

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While I was „drowning“ myself in Italian cream cheese, burrata, something so soft and tender tasted like I have never felt before and never probably will, Iva spoke: „We really do put a lot of work and effort in picking the right ingredients. Fruits, vegetables, fresh meat that we get from local companies, OPGs and mostly from markets. There are two amazing women in the kitchen that are here only to make homemade pasta. We are very proud that we bake our own three types of bread, homemade bruschetta and crostini.
The flowers we use as a decoration on our meals (edible), we get from this nice couple that grows its own flowers in Zagreb. As our kitchen most likely, visibly tends to lean to Mediterranean, more closely Italian kitchen, we purchase all of our ingredients from Italy. We go there once a week. Our speciality, burrata, needs to be served with exquisitely prepared meat that has to go through all sorts of processes and tests”.

MAIN DISH

Have I said that Iva seams to be a little bit mysterious as a person? I needed some time to pursue her to take a picture with us, during our time there. I found that surprising as I thought, and still think that she is a beautiful woman. Decent, relaxed, elegant, eloquent, professional… a mother of one son, successful law student. A wife, that’s been running the Boban since ’97, and its younger brother, restaurant Ill Secondo since ’10.  „Please don’t make me choose. One minute I’m here at Boban and the other over there at Ill Secondo. Some people find it hard to work on Mondays, I can’t wait to go to my babies. I really love my job”.

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In front of us, one by one, main dishes arrived. Risotto con gamberi with spinach, aroma of lavender and dessert wine, handmade homemade ravioli with young potato with wild asparagus and brown champignons, duck confit with bread balls and aromatised bacon, baby chicken, ecologically grown marinated and roasted with cooked carrot, young onions, potato, riccola and homemade sauce Aioli, very famous Rustica – beefsteak with roasted potatoes, rucola, red chicory and cherry tomatoes…

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And while the only sounds we were making was mmmm and aaaah, Iva has been talking about who this all would not have been that much successful if it wasn’t for her long time and talented associates and business partners. „Branko Kusavac is pretty much, the chef of all chefs. Also Damir Anić is here with us for a long time, a very talented young chef. We owe our success to the people behind the scenes, the ones that operate basically 24/7. Adriana, my second in command, is in charge of the kitchen and almost everything else in the restaurant, the guests, clients and suppliers…”.
While we were drinking an excellent wine malvasija that originated from our own Dubrovnik, we should mention Iva’s husband Damir who is responsible for an amazing offers that come from a their wine collection… and for a lot of other stuff as well!
„We are proud at a fact that we have the opportunity to present our own, young and perspective wine owners. Often, we would set a promotion for one of our own wine distributers and we would sell their bottles at special and well adapted prices so that we can give a chance to both our clients and our distributers, to have a mutually beneficial relationship. Clients enjoy all sorts of great wines and distributers get their chance to step up”, says Damir.

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DESERT FOR CLOSURE

„All the local guests, tourists and everyone else, who is humble, hungry, frequent and loyal, is the proof we need that we are running things the way they should be ran and that our hard work and commitment doesn’t come without an award. That is the biggest prize for us. It keeps us going, makes our waking up easier and forces us to be better each day, every day.“

Okay, okay… but wait a second! The Michelin story. I can’t resist, I just have to tell you what happened with Michelin. The story on how they got on an amazingly hard list to get to, the one where you are globally known as the restaurant recommended by no other but Michelin establishment itself. Best critiques in the world came there and decided that that place has something special. We definitely should believe them. „What actually happened?”, I wondered with no patience. And you will understand my impatience, as I, a food-movie addict, expect the entire rollercoaster of emotions and story that could easily be turned into an Hollywood directed, over budgeted, 3 times Oscar winning performance that will once be on the same level of awesomeness and legendary as Burnt, Julia and Julie etc… of course with Bradley Cooper as a main character. Duh, who else?
Soooo, talk!!! They arrived. Were they a little bit frightening? Have they placed the fork on the ground? Was it two of them? Male and female? Ordered two separate meals? Were you nervous ha-ha?”

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I was so focused on the story I almost didn’t see the magnificent diversity of deserts that have somehow appeared in front of me. They called my name. And yes I answered…

Meringue cake with pieces of pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, dark chocolate with double cream, chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream, cheesecake without flour and in the end Meringue – summer seasonal cake with fresh strawberries, yogurt based cream, mascarpone cheese…right now I realize I was in heaven for a few moments and it tasted as sweet as I hoped it would.

Iva replies: „Ha-ha! No way. We weren’t even aware of their presence. We didn’t even know they were in Croatia, nonetheless here in Boban. Not a single clue. We have more than 400 people in and out of our restaurant every day. We don’t count who comes and goes. My husband and I were at the movies, when we received a text from the girlfriend of our son, Nina, that our restaurant, Boban, was one of the few restaurants in Michelin recommendation list. At first we thought it was a practical joke, but suddenly a whole lot of people started to congratulate us on that achievement and we realized it was true.

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Later we figured out that they were here a few months ago, as we saw on the pictures that they ordered the dishes that were served on these little wooden boards that we replaced quickly afterwards.
They ordered bruschetta with tomato, basilica and olive oil (our most simple meal), lamb chop pasta with wine and sage and our own homemade tiramisu with homemade biscuit. So basically, they ate all the meals that were homemade, which was probably the reason we got on that list in the first place.
I have to say that does mean a thing or two. Because we ourselves, whenever abroad, find our restaurants through the same Michelin list we’ve been put on. But above all else, that recommendation made us realize that we are performing our job at a very high level and that our quality has been recognized worldwide. It all blew us away and gave us an even more of a boost to do our job better with every dawn that is yet to come…”, says Iva at the end of our meeting.

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My recorder goes away and we still keep on talking cause we just have a lot in common.

Off the record: We continue to talk about all the local restaurants we like, Iva recommends a lot of restaurants that you have hardly ever heard for but their food is heavenly, we talk about the time management with the restaurant, and last but definitely not least… how can she stay so slim and perfect with all those aromas and meals that are around her every day :-) ?

„My favourite thing to end the day with is to come home, take a bit of bread and dip it in my own homemade oil. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid and it will stay with me forever…truly it doesn’t get any better than that, am I right?”, she laughs.

And me and my photographer Marija (born and raised in Šibenik, beautiful Adriatic town) nodding our heads and agreeing with every single thing she said, still mesmerised from all that heavenly food from earlier.

Footnote:

With restaurant Boban there is 33 more Croatian restaurants that have made it to Michelin recommedation list. 12 Istrianian, 12 Zagreb and 10 Dubrovnik restaurants. So to add all the other recipients to the list, there are Nautika, Vapor, 360, Stara loza, Pantarul, Proto, Azur, Dubrovnik, Kopun and Bistro Tavulin from Dubrovnik, Apetit City, Gallo, Le Bistro Esplanada, Zinfandel’s, Takenoko, Mano, Dubravkin put, BOBAN, Fajn, Mundoaka, Bistro Apetit i Agava from Zagreb and Pergola, San Rocco, Marina, Damir&Ornella, Sv. Nikola, Wine Vault-Monte Mulini, Batelina, Zigante, Alla Beccacola, Konoba Morgan, Konoba Čok i Maneghetti. In the company of 2000 most elite restaurants in the world, the ones that own a Michelin star, the first Croatian restaurant is Monte, a restaurant located in city of Rovinj.

Text: Lidija Šeatović

Photos: Marija Laća

Translation: Filip Šeatović

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