Food / Restaurants

Review: Ambar


Restaurant: Ambar
Theme: Balkan Mixed
Date Visited: February 15, 2013

Dish in photo: Gibanica

It was so exciting to hear about a Balkan restaurant opening in the area, as I am a huge -phile of anything Russian, Eastern Europe, Eurasian, Balkan, etc.

I wasn’t disappointed, but there is some room for improvement. The venue is great: two floors and three bars. Definitely able to transition into a late-night bar/lounge.  The back patio on the second floor will be an excellent summer-drink spot.

We entered without a reservation and were told that a few tables were going to be leaving shortly.  We were offered the option to wait, and suggested to the bar upstairs for a drink in the meantime. The drinks were made well, I ordered a Belgrade Mule (similar to Moscow Mule but with Serbian Sljivovitz Old Plum Brandy. [Aside: This was very exciting to me because A). Sljivovitz is difficult to find here and B). a restaurant group (not to name names) who owns many neighborhood bars around Eastern Market / Capitol Hill refuses to carry Ginger Beer and Ambar actually has it.  1st bar I know of on 8th street that does… can we start a trend here please?]

A server was with us shortly after we sat down upstairs. She suggested we choose 2-3 dishes each and that they would be served tapas style. A few minutes later, another server came over and introduced herself. I suppose they did a bait and switch, this happens when the hostess doesn’t seat properly and servers need to even out covers so everyone gets an even opportunity for tips.  This also tells me that because the hostess is downstairs, she may not be well aware of what is going on upstairs (aka how busy or slow servers are) and/or she didn’t have time to tell a server that she was going to ‘give us’ to another server.  No big deal, really.

Overall, the menu offers a variety of options and all seem fairly authentic from what I’ve seen before.  I will say that Eastern European / Balkan food is not known for having extremely strong flavors or spices. Some food can be bland but has a very comforting feel to it.

Cultural Note: Applicable for Balkan/ Eastern European/ Russian Cuisine. If one wants their restaurant to be authentic in this cuisine they may not want to create dishes with overly strong flavors or change the ‘set-ups’ (sides that the main entree comes with) because it would deter from the authenticity of the cuisine.

Menu items ordered:

White Veal Soup

Butternut Squash Potage: The leek taste did not come out as strongly as I would have liked.

Cheese Pie / Gibanica: Good, but maybe too much cheese and too less red pepper spread. The spread really cuts the heaviness of the dish and it would have been nice to have more.

Roasted Mushroom Crepes: My favorite thus far. The flavors all played well, reminded me of Russia 🙂

Grilled Bacon wrapped prunes: OK. They were cooked too crispy, there was really too much charri-ness on them. It was difficult to taste any sweetness in the prunes or bacon due to this flaw in preparation.

Bacon and Peanut Pork Tenderloin: This was alright. I thought the mashed potatoes were a very ‘average’ side dish. They were good mashed potatoes, but if you can’t make mashed potatoes, you shouldn’t be a chef at a restaurant. The flavors could be stronger. I didn’t have a very strong sense of the bacon and peanut in this dish.

Balkan Kebab: Very good. I like the mixture of peppers and it was not overcooked (as it often comes).

Ambar at 523 8th St SE, Washington DC


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