Despite its renowned reputation as the party island of Croatia, Hvar’s heart and soul lies within a deep-rooted devotion – one that can be discovered at Dalmatino – to carry on family businesses and dreams from previous generations.
Today, the man behind Dalmatino is Denis Vesovic whose father started the family restaurant in November 1987. It was always a steak and fish house to begin with, in the same location where Denis grew up while helping his father – a chef with a vision – direct and expand the restaurant from its homey kitchen. Today, Denis no longer lives there, but his grandmother still does.
“I started working here at thirteen years old, my brother was eleven. In many ways, it was always a family project.”
Behind Hvar’s superyachts resting by the harbor and white parties where jetsetters spray bottles of champagne as they celebrate birthdays and weddings, this Croatian island is united by family histories embedded in governmental offices, family-run restaurants, agriculture landowners, and small-businesses. From one generation to another, the handovers between families are received and continued with the utmost respect and a sense of responsibility. To understand such devoted esteem for tradition, one must remind ourselves the effects of war in former Yugoslavia. Judging from Denis’ appearance, we doubt whether he even remembers the war. But he does.
In July 1991, when the Yugoslav army (JNA) attacked Croatia, Hvar was blocked from food supplies that were typically transported from the mainland. While large parts of Croatia was under bloody siege, Hvar was considerably untouched with the exception of a telephone tower explosion, as we were told by a local. Refugees arrived to Hvar via boats for shelter, hotels were packed with zero tourists but rather, those fleeing the town of Vukovar, Bosnia and Hercegovina. Denis recalls,
“Every single hotel was accepting refugees so we didn’t have enough electricity, except for a few hours during the day so we could upkeep the basics of living.”
As we recollect the past, the presents brings us sour cherry rakija, a popular Balkan fruit brandy. It’s a tradition within the Vesovic household, a welcome drink that Denis’ grandmother gifts house guests that has now become Dalmatino’s free-flowing welcome drink. Today, Denis’ grandmother no longer drinks but she continues to make the Grandmother’s Dessert on the menu – a cake that she personally produces daily.
Like most renowned restaurants on the island, Dalmatino’s menu transitions according to Hvar’s changing climate. In the summertime, travelers can indulge in Octopus with Strawberries since May is the ripened season of this aromatic fruit. Another star appetizer that must be consumed is the Carpaccio “Eros” with Zucchini, Pistachio, Pine Nuts, Parmesan. A dish which Denis prides on, thinly sliced zucchini drizzled with vinegar instantly melts in our mouths depicting Hvar’s fragrant Mediterranean soil.
For fish lovers, the sea bass and gregada (fish fillet paired with potatoes in broth) are satiable options. The Tuna Tartar sitting on a bed of fresh avocados dipping in sauce, is also another salivating choice and representative of Hvar’s easy access to delectable seafood at the most premium quality. The steak section on Dalmatino’s booklet menu, however, lists at least fourteen different types of beef grown in various parts of mainland Croatia. The spotlight shines the brightest on the Foie Gras Black Truffle Steak that compacts the best of culinary grandiosity in the heart of juicy comfort. The steak, perfectly cooked to a requested medium-rare, embellished with a stack of saucy goose liver results in heavenly bites of multiculturalism. A concept that’s further enhanced with a sip of a local red wine that can only be produced with 2,718 hours of sunlight per year.
Last but not least, the luscious Gnocchi “Istria” with Black Truffles and Shrimp sings to Hvar’s Italian influences. Similar to the story behind Split’s Bajamonti, where we learned that Italian and Mediterranean food serve as the foundation of Dalmatian and Istrian dishes, Dalmatino’s handmade purple gnocchi amps up such influences with hums of extraordinary truffles and velvety cream.
It’s no secret that during four months out of a year, Hvar becomes a hushed island void of travelers. And Denis is happy about that, he takes the winter season to replenish and plans trips around the world with his family. It seems, even during unwinding time away from his popular restaurant storied with memories that cross generations, he still lives to create new family experiences. Just as his father always did.