Jump to content
RWBooneJr

Ambar, Balkan Cuisine on Barracks Row in the Former Jordan's 8 Space at 8th and E Streets SE - Also Open in Clarendon

Recommended Posts

2 hours ago, DaveO said:

Also, Don, they had 9 small plates for 2; $70, just under $8/plate.  It would take a person with a gigantic appetite to down 9 plates on his/her own. :rolleyes:

hqdefault.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cost unfortunately has nothing to do with quality in this era... Ambar sounds tasty but Ravi is always going to be cheaper and probably more delicious. No drinks though, but service will be meh. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Balkan Experience is unlimited small plates, so doesn't that mean you could have more food for your $35/each than 9 plates total for 2 people?  Of course, that may mean the value depends on your willingness to feel miserably stuffed, which isn't optimal.

If you don't get the Balkan Experience, then the value depends on how many small plates you need to feel sated. We've been meaning to try Ambar (maybe next week when it'll be easier to go on a weeknight) and I'll have to see. It's hard to plan if you can't tell from the menu which dishes are smaller and which are larger, but I've had that issue at tapas and mezze places too.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Did the "Balkan Experience" last night, as we wanted to eat outside and be in a lively area and Clarendon**, for all it's warts, is still pretty great for people watching.

The food is slightly better than what you'd expect for AYCE. It's all pretty much pre-made, and comes at you quick. The service is okay - fits and starts - sometimes waitress has time, and sometimes you don't see her for a while.

The dips are good - eggplant, lamb pate were both tasty. The bread that comes with the dips are pretty tasty, as well.

Lamb prosciutto was eh, but the cheese that came with it was not bad at all.

Quinoa salad was meh. Grilled asparagus was pretty good, they were fat spears. Quail egg was a nice touch, and cooked to runny, which I like.

Marinated three peppers - the spicy was a little spicy, the mild was kind of boring, and the cheesy one was great.

Fiance liked the tartare steak, the lamb skewer (misnomer, as it was not on a skewer) was tasty, and the grilled pork neck on mashed potatoes was tasty, if a bit salty. 

Crispy smelt was probably my favorite thing. I love fried small fishies!

Shrimp was over this polenta-ish corn mash, and I liked that. 

Balkan food is best if prepped simply, and uses fresh vegetables and simple grilled meats. Order those, and you'll eat fairly well. The other more complicated things aren't that great. If you get 4 dishes per person, it's worth it. We were probably overly full and if chose a little bit more carefully, could skip the AYCE and just do a la carte. I wish I tried the rotisserie lamb, homemade pork sausage, and maybe one of the slow cooked items. 

** Washington, D.C. is such a cosmopolitan and diverse area with so many types of people and languages being spoken, while just 3 miles away in Clarendon, it completely changes to an Abercrombie commercial. So young, blonde, and bro-ey. Darkest people there were me and the servers. Nevertheless, I love the energy here, and wish the restaurants were better. Two fairly new places in this storefront - Wilson Hardware and Alto Fumo (replaces Faccia Luna, I think). Both were hopping. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/22/2018 at 10:38 AM, Simul Parikh said:

** Washington, D.C. is such a cosmopolitan and diverse area with so many types of people and languages being spoken, while just 3 miles away in Clarendon, it completely changes to an Abercrombie commercial. So young, blonde, and bro-ey. Darkest people there were me and the servers. Nevertheless, I love the energy here, and wish the restaurants were better. Two fairly new places in this storefront - Wilson Hardware and Alto Fumo (replaces Faccia Luna, I think). Both were hopping. 

I enjoy Ambar and I’m very much in sync with your review/perspective.  Good- maybe quite good—not great.  I still haven’t tried enough dishes though to just focus on my faves and ignore the rest

As to the “look”—Ambar DC looks different than Clarendon.   

This article from almost 3 years ago sheds light on the “Clarendon experience”   I believe it reflects elements of the dining scene for at least 3+ decades that I’ve noticed and been somewhat aware of

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/12/2017 at 3:57 PM, arlingtonkabob said:

I quite enjoyed Ambar in Clarendon. They offered an all you can eat high end tapas style for $35. The food exceeded my expectations and was very fresh!

Anyone else tried Ambar?  I still haven't made it and live right near by

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, ces1965 said:

Anyone else tried Ambar?  I still haven't made it and live right near by

My suggestion is try to go on a weekday Mon-Wed. Any other night is jam packed and the food takes awhile to come out.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, ces1965 said:

Anyone else tried Ambar?  I still haven't made it and live right near by

After Garrison was closed for a Private Party (Grrrr...), I went to the Barracks Row Ambar a couple of weeks ago for the second time. It was ... pleasant.

Note that, unlike Clarendon, which offers their Balkan Experience - all-you-can-eat small plates for $35 - the Balkan Experience at the DC location is $49, but includes what they term "Select Drinks." While I was washing my hands (*), the bartender recommended that my friend order this, but when I got back, I nixed it, because I think it would be pretty tough to finish $49-worth of food here (I never did find out what the "Select Drinks" were, but it sounds like it could be a good deal - just make sure you bring your appetite).

They were out of the first two beers I asked for, and the bartender didn't know how to make a French 75, but he made up for this with his friendly personality.

Going from memory, we had a couple KajmakiSumadija (sorry, no accents on this keyboard) and Mushroom - if you go the dip route, I would make sure you have enough bread - consider getting an extra order. The Meat and Cheese Baked Pies were fine - "tasty" is the word I'd use, and they came two to an order ($8 per order), so even at this point, you're starting to get full. Leek Croquettes were unremarkable, but I don't even think they were on the bill (there was some initial confusion about whether we were getting the Balkan Experience). And then we got one other item - it might have been a Mushroom Flatbread, and we were getting pretty full - I think at this point, our food adds up to $41 total, and it was the drinks that nearly doubled the cost, so if those "Select Drinks" appeal to you, then the $49 Balkan Experience might be the way to go, as you'll get some seafood and meat dishes instead of our mostly appetizer meal - just make sure you bring your appetite to get your money's worth.

I've enjoyed Ambar both times - it's an odd restaurant because, although it's technically a chain with a location in Serbia, the overall feel is somewhat slapdash - sort of the same impression you get at the Russian Mari Vanna in South Dupont ... just a little "off" for whatever reason. Sort of informal, sort of unplanned - not in a bad way - don't expect anything more than "comforting and tasty," and you won't be disappointed. I'd come back, and explore deeper into the heart of the menu.

---

(*) The night I went, there was something wrong with all the restrooms, which weren't open the first thirty minutes we were there (the staff, in particular, seemed to bear the brunt of any discomfort). A special Kudos to Cava next door: They happily covered for their neighbor, and allowed Ambar's patrons to use their restrooms while the situation was being addressed.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, arlingtonkabob said:

My suggestion is try to go on a weekday Mon-Wed. Any other night is jam packed and the food takes awhile to come out.

Arlington or DC?

50 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

I went to the Barracks Row Ambar a couple of weeks ago for the second time. It was ... pleasant.

More or less how I would describe Ambar. (Clarendon). Probably enjoyable.   The ambiance service and attitude being better  than the food. Though the food is better than “not bad”.  Maybe much better and that cuisine simply is not for me

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Ambar Capitol Hill website references an unlimited dinner offer for $35 per person and also the Balkan Experience for $49. I assume the $35 offer doesn't include drinks. When I did the Balkan Experience our table had countless refills of a Bulgarian (I think) red wine. Maybe it would have repulsed those with a more sophisticated wine palate, but I enjoyed it!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoy Ambar.  I wish the dishes were "a little bit more special"  or just straight  "special".  Its a delightful experience.  Its easier to dine there on a weeknight than a weekend.  The Virginia location is very busy.  The dishes are tasty...I just don't think they are special or exquisite, or it could be that the relatively quickly prepared dishes, that come out fast...are not given the time to be that special nor do they spend the time on them to add ingredients that would turn them into a taste sensation.

I stopped by for lunch as the earlier diners were starting to depart.  Plenty of room at lunch.  I have always had excellent service, lunch, dinner or HH.  The staff is well trained.  It is a more satisfying experience with a larger group as the group can order a wide variety from the menu...and reorder the small plates they most enjoy.  I was alone at lunch and had the Balkin Fried Zuchini over tzaziki .  I'm a sucker for tzaziki.  The dip was fine.  The zuchini was also fine...but I suspect they could take that dish and elevate it with effort.  I also had the Short Rib goulash.  Also good...but not great.   Overall very satisfying.  Just not exquisite dining.

There is something else.  It probably serves to negate my "wishes".  They are such smart restaurateurs.  They do killer volume.  They also have a volume and variety of reviews that is unmatched along with scintillating ratings.  I know they work at it, and it only enhances their volume of customers.  Kudos to them.  I respect that.  In an environment with so much competition and so many places closing....Ambar thrives.  They do so providing meals that IMHO are quite good....just not great.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, DaveO said:

I enjoy Ambar.  I wish the dishes were "a little bit more special"  or just straight  "special".  Its a delightful experience.  Its easier to dine there on a weeknight than a weekend.  The Virginia location is very busy.  The dishes are tasty...I just don't think they are special or exquisite, or it could be that the relatively quickly prepared dishes, that come out fast...are not given the time to be that special nor do they spend the time on them to add ingredients that would turn them into a taste sensation.

I stopped by for lunch as the earlier diners were starting to depart.  Plenty of room at lunch.  I have always had excellent service, lunch, dinner or HH.  The staff is well trained.  It is a more satisfying experience with a larger group as the group can order a wide variety from the menu...and reorder the small plates they most enjoy.  I was alone at lunch and had the Balkin Fried Zuchini over tzaziki .  I'm a sucker for tzaziki.  The dip was fine.  The zuchini was also fine...but I suspect they could take that dish and elevate it with effort.  I also had the Short Rib goulash.  Also good...but not great.   Overall very satisfying.  Just not exquisite dining.

There is something else.  It probably serves to negate my "wishes".  They are such smart restaurateurs.  They do killer volume.  They also have a volume and variety of reviews that is unmatched along with scintillating ratings.  I know they work at it, and it only enhances their volume of customers.  Kudos to them.  I respect that.  In an environment with so much competition and so many places closing....Ambar thrives.  They do so providing meals that IMHO are quite good....just not great.

I'd say you pegged Ambar here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×