Ambar’s Small Plates – The GW Hatchet
Media credit: Anya Wareck I Photographer
If you have a newfound fondness for high-end Balkan cuisine, stop by Ambar for a top-notch dining experience.
Few would rank Arlington, Virginia as a hotspot for Balkan cuisine — though Ambar’s location in Clarendon proves otherwise.
Opened by Ivan Iracanin in 2016, Ambar’s artfully bountiful menu offers a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat experience alongside a conglomeration of authentic Balkan small plates. Ambar is one of the only Balkan spots in the region with top notch service, a distinct vibe and innovative, reasonably priced dishes – a rewarding culinary getaway that any curious diner would be delighted to discover.
After venturing out of the district on a busy Sunday evening, I was delighted to discover the restaurant’s two-block proximity to the Clarendon subway station. Ambar sits among a jumble of spacious commercial buildings and quaint shops on Wilson Boulevard. The relatively generic entrance contrasts wildly with the restaurant’s light and airy interior.
Ornamental ivy vines hang from the ceiling above an array of brown-cushioned chairs mimicking the roof of a classic greenhouse. Ambar’s atmosphere is both contemporary and intimate, as a subtle tranquility emanates from its organic layout.
Ambar offers a huge selection of Balkan dishes with an all-you-can-eat brunch ($42.99), dinner ($49.99), and weekday express lunch ($25). The restaurant also offers an optional – but very necessary – dessert platter ($7.99) to accompany any meal, and a liberal happy hour menu from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, where diners can order a wide variety of small plates ($5 each). ).
The menu is designed to integrate light starters with robust main courses for an enjoyable and authentic experience. Try the Brussels sprouts ($8) with the 6 o’clock lamb ($26.99) or the prime rib goulash ($22.99) after ordering a selection of spreads and charcuterie from the mezze list . From pickled vegetables and olives to an array of charcuterie, Ambar functions as a culinary playground for adventurous eaters.
Our gracious server, Ivan, relayed a selection of popular dishes to our table shortly after we arrived. Ambar’s menu food and prices exceeded my standard expectations for typical DMV offerings with top notch cuisine at a reasonable price. We started our 5pm dinner with an array of spreads – the beetroot tzatziki ($6), ajvar ($7) and urnebes ($7). The tzatziki was incredibly fresh and earthy, with slivered beets replacing the cucumbers included in the traditional dish. The ajvar spread described as “savory flavor of roasted peppers and eggplant” retained both the smokiness and sweetness, which paired exceptionally well with urnebes – a tangy, brackish cheese dip.
Crispy truffle sourdough and doughy pita accompanied the mezze spreads on the happy hour menu, serving as essential vessels throughout our meal. The Balkan Salad ($7), a mish-mash of crunchy cucumbers, succulent cherry tomatoes and creamy feta, served its purpose as a light entrée. The flavor was really conventional, but its freshness brought a balance of good taste to our dining experience.
As the carnivorous dish par excellence, we chose the Balkan kebab called “cevapi” ($20.99). Beef sausages, dusted with smoked paprika, were served on a dollop of cheese spread we had received earlier. The meat was tender and added a crucial element of fat to our vegetable-heavy feast.
I left the restaurant feeling overwhelmed by the full-bodied dish I chose. Ambar’s ability to combine classic flavors with an innovative twist creates a nuanced selection of dishes, openly appealing to everyone.
If you have a newfound fondness for high-end Balkan cuisine, you must stop by Ambar for a top-notch dining experience. Ambar is truly a gold mine for daring eaters looking to monopolize an abundant menu without breaking the bank. With a divine ambience, attentive servers, and delicious, plentiful food, Ambar is a must for any DMV resident.