My journey to Zagreb had been a long one. It started with a flight in British Airways Economy from Seattle to London. Then I had a long layover at the Plaza Premium Lounge in the Queen’s Terminal. Finally, I ended up on a 2 1/2 hour Croatia Airlines flight to Zagreb. By the time I got to the Palace hotel, I was extremely hungry and in need for a really good meal. For my first meal in Zagreb I decided on Plac Kitchen & Grill as it is a traditional Croatian restaurant. So I set off on the short 10 minute walk to the restaurant. Of course, I couldn’t find it (more on this later). After 30 minutes of searching and my hunger growing, I settled on Nokturno.
I say I settle, but that is only because I set out for Plac and happened to walk by Nokturno. In my research on Zagreb, I stumbled on Nokturno and it looked fantastic. Nokturo receives rave reviews. Widely regarded as one of the best affordable Italian restaurants in Croatia. It was definitely on my list of restaurants to try while I was in Croatia.
A quick confession. I am becoming a food snob, especially with certain foods. Pasta is one such food. I refused to eat pasta for the past 4 years. 4 years ago I gave myself an aversion to pasta. I ate pasta twice a day for 7 weeks because I bought Olive Garden’s never ending pasta pass (clearly I wasn’t a food snob then). You know I was going to get my money’s worth, even if it made both me and my wife sick. Now, I cannot eat Italian without the sick nauseated feeling I got during my last Pasta Pass week. The only exception to this was 2 years ago in Italy. There is something about Italian pasta. The freshness and their flavors that reignited my love for pasta, but the sickness returned when I got back home. But I decided to try again in Croatia.
Nokturno’s Ambiance (I used the word Ambiance…damn I am a classy bitch)
By the time I stumbled upon Nokturno, I had only been in Croatia for about an hour or so. But, I was already getting a feel for Zagreb’s unique charms. Zagreb, especially in the heart of its tourism districts, has a very old world Adriatic/Mediterranean feel. Similar to what you may feel in places like Italy or Greece, but with its slight unique twists.
Nokturno carries this charm into its building and decor. The second you walk in you know you are going to get a delicious home cooked-style meal.
First and foremost Nokturno is an Italian restaurant. However, its food is not your traditional Italian restaurant. Its goal, which is more than succeeds at, is to take traditional Italian recipes and infuse them with the charm and character of Croatia’s unique flavors. One way they do that is with truffles…. ohhhhhh let me tell you about truffles. Back home, and in most of the world, truffles are a delicacy; they are really freaking expensive. This is because truffles require as specific climate to grow and are the extremely hard to farm. However, truffles thrive in Croatia. As a result, lots of food in Croatia contains truffles. More Importantly even affordable (or dare I say it cheap) food contains truffles!!!
Nokturno has a surprisingly large menu. You will find their take on most of your favorite Italian dishes on there menu, and then some. That was the difficulty I had at Nocturno. There were so many amazing sounding options I really couldn’t choose. All I knew is that it was going to have truffle. I had to have some of that truffle goodness. I ended up going with the tortellini with chicken in a truffle sauce.
So how was it?
While I am not sure if there is a bad choice on the menu, this was 100% the absolute correct choice. My goodness was this dish delicious. The tortellini reignited my love for pasta with its unbelievably rich flavors. If you watch Food Network or other cooking shows like Top Chef, you are bound to hear the term umami. I swear it has been the buzzword in the food industry for the past couple years. But honestly, while I knew its definition, I honestly had no clue what it means. However, the as soon as the truffle sauce it was like a light bulb turned on in my head. Umami.
Umami is an amazing taste that is just so hard to define in words. I have read descriptions of it being “savory, meaty, or rich” but it isn’t that either. I think maybe best way to describe it is by feel rather than traditional flavor words. When that light bulb of umami goes off in your head you will recognize it because you will become overwhelmed a woodsy or rustic feeling. It is an extremely hearty feeling that is extremely rare in most foods.
Of course that probably just sounded like nonsense.
One thing you will find about Zagreb, and from what I hear Croatia as a whole, is that it is extremely affordable. Even the most expensive restaurants in Croatia don’t come close to the prices of expensive restaurants in the States. Even by Croatian standards Nokturno is extremely affordable. Most dishes on Nokturno’s menu will run somewhere between 35-60 Croatian Kuna (about $5-$9). My chicken truffle tortellini with a glass of house red to drink came to a total of 61 kuna ($9.20). I promise you that I could not find a meal that good back home for under $40 let alone under $10.
Nokturno will make you taste flavors you never knew existed or never understood. This Croatian Italian restaurant expertly fuses your Italian favorites with uniquely Croatian flavors all at a price that will keep your wallet happy (see what I did there 🙂 ).