While the food is good, and the service is fine, the best thing about Ambar—a new Barracks Row restaurant serving up Balkan cuisine—is its unique decor.
The style is best described as rustic-vintage-farmhouse-library-chic. Yes, I realize that is a lot of different styles. But, with Edison lights, library books, exposed aged wooden walls and feminine wallpaper, it truly does manage to combine all of the above, creating a pleasant, fun and not-yet-seen-Washington style.
The first level of the rectangular restaurant features a long wooden bench with black cushions, making way for about 15 sets of tables for two.
Facing that, a long, wooden bar with rustic metal bar stools and a yellow-tinged, back-lit bar that’s super sexy and would make a killer happy hour spot.
As you stroll up the stairs, the walls are decorated with black-and-white wallpaper in a feminine print of different vintage mirrors. At the top of the stairs, there’s actually a farmhouse library. It’s filled with books and old-fashioned furniture set alongside rustic, wooden walls. There’s lots of natural light pouring in from the skylights and the glorious second-floor patio.
The chic feminine farmhouse decor, coupled with an affordable bottomless option ($15 for mimosas or Bloody Marys), plenty of space and a killer patio, makes Ambar my new favorite suggestion for a ladies brunch. It seems the perfect spot to sip some mimosas with a girlfriend or two—whether downstairs in a booth or on the patio—or to plan a celebration (birthday, graduation or baby shower) in the expansive, sun-lit second level.
I was brunching with my dear friend Steph, one of my closest friends from college who was visiting from Raleigh, North Carolina. We had spent a perfect weekend together enjoying a delicious patio meal at Lavagna, running around the monuments, shopping and bopping in Georgetown, and dancing the night away with a gaggle of handsome men and my co-Bitch.
We were chauffeured and escorted by a handsome gentleman who so graciously scooped us up at my Logan Circle apartment, transported us safely across town to Southeast D.C., and walked between us arm-in-arm. A charmer, this one.
As we three had poor, weary, tired heads from the aforementioned night of dancing (and imbibing gallons of champagne), I selected the corner booth filled with comfy cushions and plenty of pillows. When I removed my sunglasses, I was thankful for the dim lighting, and I curled up in the cushions between my companions.
The menu provides a unique mix of Balkan food and typical American cuisine, with salads, soups, sandwiches, omelets, and pastries like savory crepes and meat pies along with desserts.
We all ordered coffees, and I selected a mimosa in hopes it would take the pain away (while lovely and light, it did not).
We began with the mezze sampler, which was a lovely, unique plate loaded with small samplings of fluffy Balkan corn bread, baguette, aged cow cheese, hard boiled egg, salami, prosciutto, olivie salad and ajvar, a traditional Serbian relish made of red pepper, chili, eggplant, and garlic.
The dish was a nice introduction to Balkan cuisine—that is, cuisine from the countries of the Balkan peninsula. Having spent time in—and fallen in love with—Istanbul, I was looking forward to trying Ambar after missing the opening party. (They invited us to try it, so this brunch was on the house.)
I selected the salmon omelet, a round flat patty of egg topped with wilted spinach, red onions, fresh smoked salmon and cream cheese, and sprinkled with capers. It was a relatively small portion size, but presented beautifully.
Our male escort opted for the prosciutto omelet, presented in a similar fashion: a patty of egg topped with prosciutto, leeks, arugula and ajvar.
We both enjoyed our omelets but were not wowed with the dishes and later agreed on a rating of B for the cuisine.
Steph, also suffering from the previous evening’s festivities, ordered the fried chicken sandwich, which was nearly as large as her head. The sandwich was fried in an almond-walnut crust and served with an apple-wasabi sauce alongside an enormous helping of enormous potatoes.
Steph, a slow eater tasked with an enormous dish, was only one bite into the enormous sandwich by the time the gentleman and I had pushed our plates of omelets back in satisfaction.
“Are you sure you don’t want some potatoes?,” said she, in her Southern accent and relaxed, funny demeanor.
“No, I’m quite sure I don’t want any of your dry po-ta-toes,” said he, in his thick well-pronounced British accent and flirtatious-yet-sincere demeanor.
And I, nestled up in the pillows between two very different but very special people in my life (and at brunch no less), was truly very happy, despite my pounding headache and anxiety surrounding their impending departures and Monday’s onslaught.
As a surprise, the waiter brought out fried apple rings for dessert. The amaretto-soaked green apples were encased in light fried fluffiness and topped with a delicious homemade jam that added flavor and sweetness without being overpowering. The dish was well done.
The Bitches say: All-in-all, Ambar is a mixed bag. An A+ for decor and ambiance, a C for service, and a B for cuisine. Making its final grade a B+.
523 8th St. S.E.
Ambar serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.