of fish and men

damir e ornella novigrad croatia tonguefish@ journeylism.nlIn another life the chef and owner was a professional handball player. Impressive when you know handball is one of the most popular sports in Croatia. But that was in a previous life. Today he runs the best restaurant in Istria, Damir e Ornella, together with his daughter.

Father is a man of few words. When we first meet him in the afternoon, he explains you need a reservation to eat at his place.

Everything in Damir e Ornella evolves around fish. Fresh fish. And fresh fish is not something you keep in a fridge. No, fresh fish swims in the sea until you need it. Only then you try to catch that fish. And when you succeed in doing just that, the first stop of such a fresh fish is your guest’s plate. A plate with a reservation…..the chef finds 10 words are enough to explain this and hands over his business card. ‘Call’, he says and disappears into his kitchen.

A couple of hours and a phone call later we find ourselves once again facing him. Only now we have a reservation. The time between our call and our arrival has been used by this perfectionist to get in touch with his suppliers at sea. Just before we enter the restaurant, the fish has arrived and our voyage through the magical land of tastes begins.

Arrival of the tonguefish

Arrival of the tonguefish

We are the first guests to arrive at the small and cozy restaurant. The next minutes are reserved for a lecture on what we can expect. Though he is definitely not Japanese, sashimi is his specialty. Of course, made of the raw fish and fruit de mer from the waters surrounding Novigrad. To wash away his words, he opens a bottle of a local white Croatian wine.

Before we can enjoy our first sip, the owner is back. With him comes a tonguefish that looks like it is mentally still at sea. The tonguefish and us stare at each other, and we almost hear it think ‘Damn, this ain’t my day after all. Why am I looking at a lemon and what is that former professional handball player stroking my back for?’

The fish is covered with a napkin and our chef starts pressing out the juices. Soon after he starts filleting the tonguefish and 5 minutes after it arrived in 1 piece, the tonguefish has transformed into sashimi with some polenta on the side. Meanwhile,  daughter has prepared raw scampi which she serves with a nano-layer of Istrian olive oil, a drop of lemon and a scent of strawberry-balsamico oil.

After this superb opening a parade of fish, shells and pasta with fresh truffle marches onto our table until we meet our dessert and the Croatian Muscat that comes with it.

When we ask for the bill, the restaurant is empty once again. ‘Please no tip’, our man of the evening says and something that looks like a smile lightens up his face, ‘I enjoyed your company.’

damir e ornella novigrad croatia @ journeylism.nlDamir e Ornella
Via della Mura 5
Novigrad, Croatia
T: (+38552) 758134
E: cittanova@net.hr
W: www.damirornella.com/ENG/index.html