Dining on Dragon’s Head: The Secrets of Fischrestaurant Kaj
The “golden” cook of Fischrestaurant Kaj transforms the fresh catch from the Adriatic.
“Sometimes life just writes its own script,” Miro Sapič told us laconically. He and Zlata started their fish restaurant in the 2nd district as the Balkan war came to their native Croatia and they had no wish to return. Business was slow at first, but as the neighborhood bobofied word spread. “Kaj radiš?” is Zagreb slang, which translates as “Wassup?” Not a bad name for a startup.
Zlata (meaning “gold” in Croatian) runs the kitchen. She had never cooked professionally until they opened the restaurant. “But now I really know how to do it, I love it.” The menu includes traditional Viennese, but – of course – the specialties are from Dalmatia, along Croatia’s 600 km-long Adriatic coast. The fish arrives freshly catched three mornings a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, for precision diners). Pricing is Beisl (bistro) level and the wine list reassuring. Try the Dalmatians: Dry and light white Žlahtina or fuller and fruitier Grašvina and Malvazija. The classic red Plavac is a nutty medium weight.
The skarpina is as ugly as its scientific name: Scorpaena scrofa (the red scorpion fish) – enshrined in the Italian expression brutto come uno scorfano, ugly as a skarpina. The Austrians call it Drachenkopf, or dragon’s head. Zlata does it al forno, baked in the oven with a few vegetables and plenty of garlic, and it is delicious. In the restaurant you pay by weight so a treat for two costs €70-€100. Forget the fussy rule about white wine with fish and have a bottle of red Plavac for €32. It’s still a bargain for a true evening on the Dalmatian coast. Dobar tek! Guten Appetit!
2., Fugbachgasse 9
(01) 216 64 95
Mon-Fri 11:30-15:00 & 17:30-23:00
Recipe: Skarpina Dalmatian Style (Allow about one hour)
Skarpina Dalmatian Style © Masch Verkooijen
1 kg skarpina/scorfano
First find your skarpina or scorfano. (Viennese fish traders will know both Croatian and Italian names. German is Drachenkopf (dragon’s head); red scorpion fish in English)
100 ml white wine
100 ml tomato sauce (homemade)
100 ml vegetable broth
5-6 cherry tomatoes
half a head of garlic (cut across)
1 ts capers
2 medium potatoes
2 scoops polenta
Fresh rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper
Clean the fish and season with salt, pepper and olive oil.
Place on a high-sided baking pan or other oven-proof dish, together with all other ingredients
Preheat the oven to 220°C and bake for about 35 minutes.
Baste with the juice several times during cooking.
Serve on a well-warmed dish with the vegetables arranged around the fish.
Note on polenta
In Italy, it is usually sticky and tedious-tasting. As made by Zlata Sapič, it is fluffy and delicious.
Tip: Use coarse ground polenta, some water, and a mix of Schlagobers (whipping cream) and Crème Légère with the same amount of milk and a big knob of butter