All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Some restaurant ideas have proven more potent than others. For every cupcake and cronut explosion, you have a doomed attempt to make down home ribs (so good they transcend race and class) into a suburban chain. Among our favorite innovations have been the bottomless brunch—may such a concept never die—and the small plates concept that Wikipedia insists Jose Andres singlehandedly brought to America. Of course, the Achilles heel of small plates has always been that it’s one of the most expensive ways you could sate your hunger.
As cash-strapped foodies, then, we have nothing but thanks for Ambar, D.C.’s first Balkan restaurant, bringing the “bottomless” concept to small plates, an instantly classic pairing along the lines of chocolate and peanut butter, or, in the case of Ambar, delicious cheese with other types of delicious cheese.
You can eat your fill of Ambar’s enormous selection of Americanized Balkan small plates and unlimited drinks for $49 a person, or tack on unlimited entrées to that for an additional $10. There’s a lot to choose from, so we suggest pacing yourself as much as possible within the two-hour time limit, but we recently were invited to sample the menu, and can recommend the following highlights:
The huge selection of cheese-based dishes also contain some of the best plates on offer. The cheese pie, a Balkan classic (pita sa sirom) is the top of its class, with creamy cheese encased in a flaky-crispy phyllo crust. While we’d recommend an order of each of the available dips for the table to get you started, the highlight is easily the Urnebes cheese, a specialty aged cow cheese that is creamy and savory and rich enough to probably provide you with enough calories to live on for a day.
From the vegetable plates selection, the roasted mushroom crepes are not to be missed; they include a red pepper emulsion/gouda combo that accents the classic earthy mushroom taste to a T. The Brussels sprouts with bacon is an admittedly American take on the Balkan concept, with a twist of lemon and garlic yogurt adding a punch to the otherwise familiar (but flawless) American-style grilled sprouts.
If you have miraculously saved room to get to the meat courses (a feat we only just managed ourselves) there is a fair selection of kebabs, stews, and sausages. The almond-crusted chicken is the standout in its class, brought to life with earthly-tasting walnuts and crisp green apple and chives, with a jolt of wasabi mayonnaise for spice.
There’s plenty of other good food to drool over—I feel no shame in admitting we sampled almost everything on the menu—so I’ll leave you with your regularly scheduled food porn: