It is safe to say that I am basically an undercover spokesperson for Ambar, the first modern International Balkan cuisine restaurant in D.C. Just ask any one of my coworkers. A typical week in the office sounds something like this:
Co-worker #1: “Hey Bex, any recommendations for a restaurant to go to for dinner? My friend is coming into town and I want to take her somewhere amazing!”
Bex: “Oh of course: Ambar!”
Co-worker #2: “Bex, Bex….listen. I need a wicked good happy hour that’s not too pricey but has a good vibe to it, and maybe some delicious apps. Where do I go?”
Bex: “Uhhhmm…Ambar, duh.”
Co-worker #3, 4, and 5: “Breakfastwithbex!! Exactly the gal I need advice from on where I should brunch this weekend! Hit me with your brunch radar skills…where to?!”
Bex: “Ok. So, what you’re really saying is…you want amazing food and bottomless mimosas? $39 for an endless selection of small plates and drinks at Ambar. Sold.”
It was simply love at first sight the first time Bex walked into the warm, rustic environment of the Balkan restaurant, located in Barrack’s Row, back in August of 2015. I was introduced to the Balkan food and hospitality by not only each member of the staff at Ambar, but also by the warm lighting, wooden accents and antique vibe that welcomed each guest on the first level. The fine dining space was fitting (in my case) for potentially socializing with other couples due to its long wooden bench available for various couples to dine side-by-side, with a little bit of space in between.
When my brother, Chris, visited last weekend, I took him to Ambar within hours of his arrival. He not only fell in love with the vintage environment just as I did upon first visit, but he joined me in befriending the two couples next to us and more than thoroughly enjoying our dinner for four hours to make for a memorable evening.
While Ambar’s happy hour is by no means anything to push under the rug in comparison to a full meal (I mean, a $4 happy hour menu with house wines, three amazingly refreshing cocktails and to-die for appetizers?!)…I am just way too eager to tell you about their brunch. And might I add, my date for this past Sunday’s brunch was my lovely fellow redhead friend and Ketchum co-worker (because I needed to prove that I was not in fact insanely obsessed with a restaurant for no good reason), Colbie Errico.
Now, knowing that I am the least picky eater ever and love trying many different foods, you can see how a bottomless menu might become a problem for Bex as she feels obligated to order almost everything off the menu. But one simply cannot come to Ambar without taking advantage of their Balkan Experience for breakfast ($39) or dinner ($49). Just make sure you come hungry.
Colbie and I dined at the upstairs level of Ambar – beautifully flourished with a farmhouse library, unique china, vintage furniture and the healthy glow of sunlight shining through the windows.
To start, we had multiple brunch drink options to choose from. As someone who prefers a jazzed-up mimosa over a traditional mimosa, my eyes grew wide at the mouth-watering options: mango, cherry and the Ambar mimosa with peach and lavender puree. While I did try all three (I mean, that probably was not even in question), my favorite was the Mango Mimosa with Balkan sparkling wine and mango and hibiscus puree.
One of my favorite elements of the dinner experience at Ambar is the starter selection. Choosing a spontaneous variety from the meat mezze, kajmak bar and spreads section via recommendations from a variety of waiters and waitresses is always the way to go. For brunch, we chose the mezze platter and spreads tasting. Both were the perfect pairing with our mimosas to start the afternoon off light with Ambar’s unreal homemade cornbread and sourdough. The ajvar spread (a Serbian roasted red pepper sauce) is one of my favorites to pair with the warm bread.
I always find the beginning of any experience I have at Ambar to truly reflect the heart of their brand. Everything they do at Ambar is based on tradition and the unique Balkan version of hospitality. The warm friendly environment accompanied by greetings from two of the lovely managers, Snjezana Jaksic and Jojic Uros, make me feel at home from the second I walked in.
Now, I am not usually a fan of potatoes. I’m more of a fresh, warm hunk of bread lover as seen in the previous appetizers. But, Colbie insisted that we try the potato hash and boy, am I glad she did. The flavor in this dish really kicked it up a notch for Bex’s previous relationship with potatoes. With glazed smoked onion, flavorful Balkan house spices and garlic, these little bites really pleased my palate.
For our last starter, I asked our waitress what she would suggest. She recommended the creamy chicken spread – definitely not something I would have picked out myself given the variety of starters but, I trusted her. It was….Un. Real. A picture does not do justice to the fireworks that went off in my mouth when this delicious spread graced me with its presence when paired with even more homemade cornbread (Dad, you would love this cornbread. Just throwing that out there).
Ah, and so it was time to move to the next section of the menu. I immediately recognized the name of a dish that I have heard from many friends is Ambar’s best brunch item: the ham & cheese crepe. Now, where as I was not to keen on originally getting the potato hash, Colbie claimed she simply is not a “ham gal”. I insisted that we had to try it. And would you look at that, it turned out to be her favorite dish of the day and mine too! This dish is a must have if you brunch at Ambar. With gouda, tartar sauce and a red pepper spread, my taste buds were savoring every bite.
And might I add, how beautiful is this china?!
Next up, we ordered the salmon benedict. With a muffin as the base of the dish, topped with salmon, a poached egg, cream fraiche, and kajmak sauce, this dish was oozing with richness. I don’t think I would necessary order it again as the plain bread just stood no chance against Ambar’s cornbread and sourdough, but it is safe to say that it is still a delicious salmon benedict if that is what your heart truly desires.
And I mean, could this poached egg be any more perfect?
WARNING: this is about to be the most gorgeous omelet you have ever seen in your life. Prepare yourself…
I mean, I warned you. It was almost too pretty to eat. You’d think a veggie omelet would be fairly simple, plain and maybe nothing special, hence why I wanted to order it. To see if Ambar jazzed it up in any way and man, they did. Filled with red & yellow pepper, yellow onion, spinach and that beautiful creamy ajvar sauce and you, my friend, have a pretty killer veggie omelet right there. Step aside all you other veggie omelets with a side of dry toast because this bad boy wins for best presentation by a landslide.
The prosciutto benedict was probably my least favorite of all the items that we ordered. The prosciutto itself was very flavorful and delicious, but I think it’s that darn English muffin that was really cramping it’s style yet again for me. I just ate the prosciutto off and saved my calories for 2…maybe 3 more dishes.
Ah, and at last, we have the babe of all brunches: Steak & Eggs. Man, what a smokin’ piece of steak.
If I could marry a piece of meat, I think it would be this one. It was cooked to perfection just how I like it – medium rare. The homemade chimichurri sauce just made me want to cry tears of joy. Might I add that the small plate servings are perfect for a table of two. You get a great taste of each dish but nothing too overpowering where you have to stop yourself from ordering multiple more dishes than your stomach can physically hold.
Oh, that’s funny. Colbie thought we were done with the meal. Um, hello, dessert time?! She looked at me with eyes like, “What on earth is wrong with you, Rebecca,” but I just brushed it off. Ain’t nobody got time for that negativity during brunch time.
If you thought a delightful Belgian waffle all plain and simple by itself couldn’t get any better, than you were wrong. Because this poached pear waffle with caramel sauce left me speechless. I’ve always been the type of person to like my food extra warm and the perfect temperature of the sauce and the freshly pressed warm waffle made for a combo that really pleased Bex to say the least.
How could we pass up the description of “Cinnamon Sweet Sourdough with Nutella” on the menu?! Someone please tell me how and I will provide you with a lifelong service of personal breakfasts with Bex.
Just looking at this sweet dish makes me shed a tear in remembrance of the cinnamon sugar and nutella greatness. And this… is how you end a bottomless Balkan experience at Ambar, my friends.
Oh wait, no it’s not. You give the warmest hug to the beautiful manager and await your next experience at Bex’s favorite restaurant in D.C. – the one and only, Ambar.