On the Game Trail in Croatia’s Kvarner Region By Darrin DuFord
fter following what seemed like only a few twists of road uphill, I traded the salty scent of sea breeze for the musky aroma of venison prosciutto. I was at the foothills of Europe’s Dinaric Alps in northern Croatia, and I had just entered Ronjgi, a restaurant that, despite being just a few kilometers from the coast, offers nothing from the Adriatic Sea. Instead, the restaurant, in the quiet town of Viškovo, offers specialties from the forest exclusively. While restaurants along the coast of Croatia are making a name for themselves with their abundance of fresh langoustines, branzini, and other Adriatic seafood offerings (I’d just had grilled octopus a few hours before), a whole other gastronomic realm awaits in the mountains separating two of Croatia’s most popular destinations, the Istrian peninsula and the capital city of Zagreb. The highlands, part of the Kvarner region, feature a cuisine that reflects the bounty of game and vegetation of its rugged, limestone-studded terrain.
In addition to featuring venison prosciutto, tender with a pleasant mild scent of saddle leather, Ronjgi’s charcouterie plate also included a smoky boar sausage. deer risotto--surprisingly rich given the lean nature of deer--and a wild boar steak in blueberry sauce—a marriage of meat and fruit from the highlands—each exemplified the versatility of the chef. “It would be crazy to bring fish here,” owner Guido Muškulić told me, despite the lively fish market of the port city of Rijeka being only a fifteenminute drive down to the Sea.