La Puntulina ranked highly when we were looking up places to eat in Rovinj, so we decided that we had to have a meal there. If, like us, you enjoy food, and are faced with not knowing if you will ever return to a particular part of the world again, you will understand the FOMO that drives mealtime decisions.
As we were there in the off peak season, the town of Rovinj was half asleep, with fewer people on the streets than there would you would expect for a tourist spot, and many of the shops and restaurants closed for the season. Walking up the cobblestoned street La Puntulina was on, it looked like the other pastel-coloured terraced buildings. You would not have been able to pick it out from the others if you didn’t keep your eyes peeled for it.
The dark green awning over the entrance and the similarly shaded sign on the corner did spell out that it was La Puntulina, but you had to be right in front of the entrance to read Puntulina on the awning, and close enough to decipher the vertically running font on the sign.
Despite the subtle nature of the signage, a multitude of stickers on the door itself announced the awards they had won over the years.
We got to the restaurant at about half past one in the afternoon, and were told that they were full, and that it would be at least a half hour wait. We had not been organised enough to make a reservation, having arrived in Rovinj just the night before. They didn’t take our details, but told us we could come back later. We thought it was worth the wait though, so wandered around the town and returned afterwards.
It was less busy when we returned, and we were shown to a table on their covered terrace area. As it approached the winter season, the overhead awnings and windows were drawn closed. They were likely open in the summer though, given the location of the restaurant on the side of a cliff, with a view out to the sea and a nearby island.
The decor had plenty of nautical colours, with the tables set with white tablecloths, and the metal framed chairs padded with sea blue seat cushions. When the salt and pepper grinders were brought out, they were light blue and white. They also produced their own olive oil, in a dark blue bottle. There were wooden floors both on the terrace and inside. Similar shades were used inside, with the walls and ceilings painted a not-quite azure blue hue.
The menu was brought out, a folded card with a pen sketch of the old town of Rovinj on the front, and the available dishes across the facing pages when it was opened up. They were divided into sections of cold and warm hors d’oeuvres, first courses, second courses, and garnish (which was actually more like side dishes). The menu was quite seafood heavy, with a number of dishes listed as being done in the local style. We were torn between a number of items, and would have liked to order much more, but did eventually narrow it down to a couple of the starter dishes and a couple of mains.
Before those arrived, a house starter was brought out, included in the couvert, an item on the very last line of the menu. Effectively, it is like a cover charge for what they listed here as including the bread, extra virgin olive oil, and tartine. Most of the other eateries we had been to served house bread complimentary, but as we learned, the couvert is an increasing practice. Think chinese restaurants in some parts of Asia and the extra charge for the wet towelettes and plate of salted nuts.
The tartine was a couple of pieces of bread (half a slice per person) with a creamy, pureed topping that tasted like a mix of tuna and mayonnaise. It still had the texture of fish fibres, and was quite thick, rather than being a runny consistency. The bread was fluffy, and a little buttery.
As one would expect, the first courses were first to arrive. It being truffle season, and Rovinj being on the Istrian peninsula, which is known for its excellent truffles, we had to have a truffle dish, of course. Ravioli with truffles seemed a simple way to do it, which, when it comes to truffle dishes, is really what you are after. You want something not too complicated by other competing flavours, so you can actually taste the truffles. We could smell the heady truffle aroma as the hot dish was brought to the table. We could see the truffle pieces studding the cream sauce, and slices of shaved fresh truffle sat on top of it. The pasta sheets were tender, and the ravioli were filled with a soft cheesy filling. The cream sauce was thick and coated the ravioli well. The dish had plenty of the truffle flavour and aroma we were after, and was just lightly seasoned so as not to overwhelm the truffle.
With this came the warm hors d’ouevre, the Local squid Rovinj style. When trying to decide what to order, we did try to look up what “Rovinj style” cooking meant, but couldn’t find a description anywhere, so figured that we just had to try it. The dish arrived with rings of squid mixed in a beige-pink sauce, accompanied by a couple of blocks of polenta. The squid pieces had a softer chew than what we were used to having. They weren’t springy, but tender. The sauce that covered them had a meaty flavour, like it had a chicken stock as the base. Like the ravioli dish, this was mildly savoury, rather than being over-seasoned. The polenta had a moist, cakey texture, and was also lightly seasoned. While not a heavy dish as a whole, the polenta was quite filling.
Out of the many seafood options, we chose the Seabass rolls with shrimps and the Baked fish in olive crust for our mains, as they looked the most interesting.
The Seabass rolls were presented on a bright blue plate, which provided lively contrast to the components of the dish, particularly the vibrant orange swoosh of the carrot and pinenut puree. Contrary to what we were expecting, the rolls were made of seabass, rather than the seabass being inside rolls. The fish was nicely cooked, with a bit of char flavour on the outside. In the centre of the rolls were zucchini ribbons. They were just cooked, so they still had a little crunch. Served with them were nicely cooked shrimps, juicy and crunchy, also with char flavour from the grill. (We had initially thought to call them prawn-sized, but it turns out, there is more to the difference between shrimps and prawns than size. See here for more..) We were pleased to find that they had been deveined. Their natural sweetness contrasted well with the savoury marinade. The carrot and pinenut puree was a good sauce to have with them, the pinenuts imparting a nutty flavour and some crunch to the texture. The salad with it had slices of raw carrot, peas, and green leaves including basil and radicchio, but we took it more as garnish than a significant part of the dish.
The Baked fish with olive crust was also served on a brightly coloured plate, this time a bold red that was a sharp contrast to the almost luminous green pea puree that was the bed of the dish. The main element was a squat cylinder of pieces of fish meat, put together. The fish was tender, and the olive crust gave it crunch and a lightly briny umami flavour. The verdant pea puree still retained some pea bits rather than being completely smooth. It was a balance of the natural sweetness of the peas and savoury seasoning. There was also a smear of tartare sauce on one side of the dish, providing a creamy, sweet, tangy alternative flavour to have with the fish.
We definitely still had room for dessert, so readily took up the offer when asked if we would like to see the dessert menu. They had the very classical European desserts one might expect, like panna cotta, mousse, and tiramisu. Hoping for something a little less ordinary, we picked the Mille foglie and the Creme catalan.
The Mille foglie, or mille feuille, if you spell and pronounce it the French way as originally intended, came out as quite an impressive mound on the rectangular plate. A dollop of cream held the base square of puff pastry to the plate, on top of which was a larger blob of that same gold-hued cream. Into that were stuck shards of the puff pastry, creating a jagged, angular profile with loft. It was certainly a more eye-catching way to plate it than the usual flat sandwich-style way a mille feuille is presented. The truly important part though, was how it ate. The cream was rich and smooth, and discernibly vanilla scented and flavoured. We could see vanilla bean bits in the mix, confirming for us that that pleasant floral flavour wasn’t artificial. The textural contrast of the cream with the light, wafery, flaky crunch of the puff pastry was exactly what one seeks in a mille feuille. There were some pieces of pineapple and strawberry on the plate with it that provided some tartness and more colour. Although the vanilla was an intrinsically sweet flavour, the cream wasn’t actually sweetened more than that, so on balance it worked fine even without the fruit.
The Creme catalan looked, as one might expect, very much like a creme brulee, topped with an assortment of nuts, whole and in fragments, and a slice of orange. The caramelised top had a good crack. Beneath it was a smooth, vanilla-y, not too sweet custard. The nut mix on top gave it a different crunch from the crisp bruleed layer as well as new flavour notes.
The dishes we had at La Puntulina were quite nice, but we had wanted more in terms of culinary creativity, given that it had it had won two toques in the Gault and Millau guide, and a number of other recommendations from More magazine’s Gustozi Dir (directory of eating?). We would probably describe it as good restaurant food, rather than true fine dining. The dessert of mille feuille (or mille foglie) was a standout for us, but the mains were somewhat less impressive for their prices. With the meal coming to $175 AUD for the two of us, it felt expensive for what it was. Still, it would be a lovely location to dine of an evening, particularly in their popular summer season.
For more on where we went and what we ate, see our post on Croatia Travel Tips.
Price point: Hors d’oeuvres 85 to 150 HRK. First courses 80 to 210 HRK. Mains 150 to 280 HRK. Desserts 30 to 40 HRK. With currency conversion, as stated, our meal came to $175 AUD.
Address: Sv.Križa 8, 52210 Rovinj-Rovigno
Phone: +385 52 813 186
Website: La Puntulina