You know when you go somewhere, and it’s wonderful, and you dream about returning and having the same experience, but when you go back….it doesn’t live up to your dreamy memories?
This is not one of those places.
This place is Stari Podrum, a restaurant set outside the Istrian hill town of Buje, Croatia. You will need a car to access this hidden gem, but I can assure you it will be worth the trouble. I have dubbed this restaurant my heaven on earth.
I imagine that nothing bad could ever happen here. It never rains, the sun is always shining, and it’s always a perfect 72 degrees.
We have been here twice, the first time in August of 2017 and the second in October of 2018 (with our miracle baby!) We had the same lovely lady serving us at both visits, who brought us glasses of their house recommended Istrian wines and whatever our hearts desired and made us feel like we were regulars.
I’m not going to lie to you, part of the reason that we returned to this section of the world twice in two years was to return to this restaurant. It’s that good. I may or may not have shed a few tears of happiness upon reentering this culinary establishment.
I have never been somewhere that so exemplified a “sense of place.” It feels incredibly leisurely, but maybe that’s because we haven’t spent less than three hours each time we have visited here. The restaurant is family-run and has a family-friendly environment. I don’t mean that there are crafts or crayons set out, but it’s very obvious that children are welcome — true European style. It’s unassuming, and yet taps into the finer dining feel with its white tablecloths and thoughtful centerpieces. Stari Podrum is the perfect package.
Now let’s get into the really important topic…the food. They specialize in traditional Istrian and Italian food, but most importantly: truffle steak. And when I say truffle steak I mean a steak perfectly cooked on their fireplace grill, with oodles and oodles of truffles poured on with a succulent sauce.
If you are new to truffles and want to give them a try before diving straight into a truffle steak, no worries. They will bring you toasted bread with shaved truffles on top to start off your meal.
Are you a meat lover but not a fan of truffles? That’s ok, we will forgive you. They have plenty of second course offerings on the menu, including this veal in a gravy sauce with polenta cakes. Or you can try the beauty that I had this most recent visit, which was a thinly sliced sirloin with arugula, pomegranate seeds, and shaved Parmesan, and the best drizzled olive oil of your life. For a side, you have to get the grilled vegetables, which are also served with a giant portion of shaved parmesan. Because why not.
And don’t forget to start with a bowl of PASTA. Heavens to betsy their pasta is incredible. It’s hand rolled and cooked al dente to the perfect consistency. If it’s in season, order the fusili with creamed asparagus. I can still imagine how it tasted. If it’s not in season, settle (ha) for the second best, the pasta with ox tail and red sauce.
Last but certainly not least, the desserts. I know this seems like a lot of food, but you will spend a long time here, so don’t be afraid to go all out. (It’s very affordable do so!) You can’t go wrong no matter what you choose, but our favorite was the panna cotta.
After dessert, no need to rush out. Have an after-meal drink. Take the rest of your relaxing afternoon out into the garden with a glass of wine or cup of coffee. Take pictures of your ridiculously cute baby in the grass.
I promise you will leave happy. Actually, you will leave sad because you have to drive away from this surreal place. But as Rick Steves says, “Always assume you will go back!”
While you’re in the area, take a few minutes to drive up to Buje and walk into the center of town. Buje sits majestically at the top of a hill surrounded by olive groves. From the church, you can have an impressive view overlooking the countryside.
Meandering through the backstreets of a quaint Croatian hill town will help take away the sting of leaving the beauty and delicious food of Stari Podrum. Plus, you’ll need to work off all that food!
Also close by is Kabola Winery, with one of the best views that we have ever seen from a vineyard!
I hope you will add Stari Podrum to your foodie goals bucketlist! What is your favorite restaurant in Europe?