Hungry in DC: The "Balkan experience" at Ambar DC
We can all agree that DC is a smorgasbord of global cuisine, but there are not too many places for Balkan cuisine! Enter Ambar. Ambar has been open for a couple of years now, serving up Balkan specialties, in tapa style small plates. When they opened, I had a fantastic meal with friends trying out the cuisine for the first time. I recently went back for dinner, and although I’m not too familiar with Balkan food, I can definitely say this place has turned me on to it!
Located in a converted row house in Barracks row corridor in Capitol Hill a short walk from the Eastern Market metro, the ambience is trendy but warm, with bottles of “rakia” on the walls, great wall paper, and modern tables and lighting. Plus, a temperature controlled second floor patio wins in my opinion!
Every night they offer a “Balkan experience” dinner – which is $49 per person and includes unlimited food and drinks from the menu. Drinks in this option include house wines, a couple of cocktails, and a couple of beers. You can request specific items from the menu, or just leave it up to the server and chef, who will continue to send dishes out until you beg tell them to stop. A perfect way to try out a new cuisine!
Fun Fact: General Manager Uros explained to us that eating out is not too common in Serbia (where he is from), and friends and family generally gather at someone’s home and enjoy a meal together for hours. This is definitely the experience I had at Ambar!
Cocktail options include fun Balkan twists– the Sarajevo old fashioned is made with rakia, the Balkan fruit brandy, and is a refreshing take on the classic. If you are bold, you can get a rakia sampler with tastes of 3 different flavors – but this stuff is STRONG, so be warned. The house wines are pretty good too – included with the bottomless option.
Our dinner started with an assortment of spreads served with bread. I love breads and spreads, and I particularly loved the spicy crab spread with ajvar (roasted red pepper sauce) and chilis. Oh, and the fried sourdough bread is just magnificent. It’s hard to stop eating this, but you need to be strategic as there is literally a ton of food more to come.
Personally, I love the bottomless small plates concept as it allows you to try a variety of dishes and not worry about whether everyone at the table got enough. This set up is fantastic for groups! Plus, it allows you to try something that you may not normally have ordered, or double down on something you like!
The food kept coming. Some of the standouts included the sour stuffed cabbage, the brussels sprouts, leek croquettes, mushroom crepes, Balkan lamb kebab, the mussels ….I could go on and on! Basically a vast assortment of vegetables, meat, and seafood dishes with Balkan flavors – leaving everyone at the table stuffed and happy. And believe me, it really is bottomless– we literally had to beg for it to stop, but seeing how passionate the Chef was to get us to try more flavors, we kept going till we could not eat one more bite.
Overall, the innovation, variety, and presentation of the dishes shows the thought put into the food by the chef, and allows for a delicious introduction to Balkan food.
To end the meal, we got the gnocchi dessert. It’s really a unique, pretty, and creative dish presented with chocolate, orange, and passionfruit in a bowl, to which a cream is added tableside. Mix it all together, grab a spoon and enjoy the flavor explosion in your mouth. I loved this dessert!
I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who comes here for dinner to go for the Balkan experience, which is an absolute STEAL for the quality and variety of food you get. It also makes for a relaxing dinner experience and no FOMO on the best dishes! The Balkan experience is not to be balked at :)
1. Ambar's bottomless dinner is available seven days a week with 2 menu options: unlimited small plates and bottomless drinks for $49 per person or unlimited small plates and Balkan specialties with bottomless drinks for $59 per person. Prices exclude tax and tip.
2. The entire table must order the same package level of the Balkan Experience menu.
3. They are also open for lunch, happy hour and brunch - the bottomless brunch deal is fantastic too!
Pro Tip: Try the open face lunch sandwiches for a healthy but super flavorful option. The schnitzel and the smoked salmon are my favorites!
For reservations, menus, and directions, check out the Ambar website HERE, and GO HUNGRY.