Saturday 23 May
Once again, Katja and her compatriots masterfully organized our last Asmosia activity, a daylong trip to the island of Brač, source of the white limestone that built Diocletian's Palace. They even provided bottled water and some ham and cheese heroes to bolster us as we traveled on the ferry, got onto busses at Supetar, and called at the museum at Škrip, the ancient quarry at Rasohe (where Barbara was the first to spot the relief sculpture of Hercules), and the modern limestone quarry and sculpture school at Pučišća.
By then it was 2 PM, time to head inland and up the mountain to the usually-deserted shepherd's village of Gažul. It was summer on the coast, but up here there was a touch of white on the ground; hail had fallen the previous night, and was piled up around the clutch of stone and wooden buildings.
We were welcomed with a choice of honey, cherry, herb, and pure rakis (try 'em all!), and a beautiful basket of sugared figs with bay leaves. But most welcoming was the smell of woodsmoke and savory roast meat: in an open-sided shelter, on mechanical spits, our local hosts were roasting four lambs, as well as the attendant vitalac, a local specialty made of all the lamb offal wrapped in the intestines. In the corners, potatoes were also baking under woklike lids in the embers.
We entered one of the stone buildings where tables had been laid and carafes of red and white wine stood ready. Platters of dark red pršut, local cheese, green olives, and abundant bread were laid out, soon to be followed by plates of fresh scallions and dressed lettuce.
And finally the heaping platters of potatoes, tender lamb and vitalac - which tasted a bit like kokoretsi, but with the liver and other "specialty cuts" in large chunks rather than chopped together.
For dessert, there was twisted pastry powdered with sugar, and some
coffee to keep us from drowsing as we happily rode the ferry back to Split. We owe a vote of thanks to Katja and her crew for a fantastic conference, capped by an unforgettable day.
Though the lunch was gargantuan, by late that night we were peckish enough to want a little nibble; more importantly, we had not yet tasted one special and hard-to-grow wine of Croatia, Grk. It comes from the island Korčula, but the vine has only female flowers, and has to be pollinated by another variety. There were apparently only 10,000 bottles made in the entire year 2014, and we wanted one.
If wine, then Paradox, so we hiked over there; but they were out of Grk, so Zoran kindly made a phone call and sent us over to their sister restaurant, Paradigma, where they would save us a bottle.
This is no humble konoba, but a high-end place, its chef named one of the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe, and the six-volume set of Modernist Cuisine displayed like a badge of allegiance on the bar. A Parisian maître d'hôtel would have laughed in the face of anyone who came up wanting just a bottle of wine and a couple of appetizers, but as with almost everywhere we went in Croatia, the besuited staff of Paradigma (one of whom had served us in a plaid shirt at Paradox) welcomed us hospitably, gave us the only table left, and brought us the precious Bire Grk in its minimalist black bottle. The wine was suitably impressive, a subtle white which opened up as it warmed a bit.
Of course, presentation is paramount in a place like this. Our amuse-gueule was a sepia-ink crispbread adorned with shreds of strawberry and sprouts, like a map of some odd continent.
Two other artistic platters followed. First was six oysters, one topped with pata negra Spanish ham, another with honey-melon slice, then raspberry and tapioca, watermelon dice, cucumber foam, and burrata. It was like a tour of the world via oyster.
Even prettier were Saint Jacques scallops marinated in rice vinegar presented as if in a terrarium, with dabs of oyster mayonnaise, beetroot powder, and fresh raspberries scattered over stones with pine sprigs and cones.
You couldn't have had two more different, or delicious, meals on the same day.