Ambar, Capitol Hill’s newish Balkan restaurant, piqued our interest a couple of months ago when we saw a good number of meat-free items on the menu (from what we could tell, at least. It turns out that multiple shades of grey don’t always make for an easy read).
Thankfully paper menus provided better contrast for our rheumy over-30 eyes, and we settled in at a casual table upstairs to make some choices. We started with a mix of cornbread and fried sourdough in the bread basket, accompanied by three spreads: sweet red pepper, buttery cheese, and a spicy mixture of red pepper with cheese. The combination was by far our favorite, zippy and creamy with chunks of what tasted like a cross between cottage cheese and ricotta. Both breads were nice although the sourdough was on the greasy side.
Amongst the four of us we ended up ordering most of the vegetarian plates under the soup/salad, pastries and vegetables sections of the menu. A few additional items like grilled asparagus could be made vegetarian by omitting bacon etc, but we didn’t order them.
Oozy crepes stuffed with gouda, bechamel and sauteed mushrooms were flavorful and satisfying.
Cheese pies were fluffy – a welcome change from the denser, saltier Greek version – and surprisingly well-complemented by fresh cucumber yogurt.
Red peppers stuffed with that fresh cottage/ricotta-like cheese and drizzled with cranberry sauce were exceptional, especially with bites of roasted eggplant puree.
Not all dishes were a hit. We found the leek croquettes a bit heavy and bland without a bright garnish or side to pick them up.
Butternut squash potage was also unremarkable, although the dollop of leek puree on top was a nice touch.
Desserts like ‘the four chocolates’ and ‘forest gnocchi’ sounded intriguing but complicated, and we passed them over for what seemed like a simpler choice, Balkan apple pie. The presentation was gorgeous and many of the components were tasty – phyllo cigars filled with fruit, towers of caramel mousse, and blobs of apple gelee. However, they didn’t meld and the overall effect was more fussy than rich, melty and comforting. It might have just been our mood though, because the pop tarts, chocolate pie and giant shakes we downed at Ted’s Bulletin for second dessert (!) hit all the spots.
Ambar is a lovely addition to Barracks Row and the DC dining scene. Service is welcoming even during busy times and although the menu is meat-centered, most vegetarian items are unique and thoughtfully executed.
523 8th St SE