A week after a restaurant week group lunch at Ambar and wanting to escape the office and stretch my legs in the sunny 50 degree weather, I set out toward 8th Street with a taste for an Ambar burger and a beer. I sat at the empty bar and immediately noticed what I had missed last week -- no draft beer taps. Not too discouraged, I asked the waitress for the beer menu and discovered that the cheapest bottled beer was $6, and good beers at least $8. Bummer. If I want to pay that kind of money for beer, why would I go any further than Belga Cafe across the street? Ruling out beer led me to opt for the zucchini sandwich instead of the burger. Raising my gaze to the list of wines, I thought, well, a crisp "Balkan" white (granted, that means Greek or Turkish to me, as I hadn't had wines from a true Balkan state before) might go well with the sandwich. But again, I was disappointed by the prices -- the cheapest glass was $8. Since the majority of customers -- even well-traveled, jaded Washingtonians -- aren't likely to be familiar with Balkan wines, why not offer at least one at a reasonable introductory price of $5 or $6?
The zucchini sandwich was tolerable, but with few of the sunflower seeds mentioned on the menu, and not as the flavorful as the moderately spicy Ambar burger. I should have known better than to try the veggie sandwich in February, but my vegetarian friend said it was good last week. The biggest disappointment was the side of potatoes -- the lunch menu says that potato wedges are served with the zucchini sandwich, but instead the plate had what looked like shoestring onions. I like crisp french fries (but again, Belga's are hard to beat and Matchbox's are very good, too, so why not potato wedges?), but these would have been forgettable if they weren't also cold. The waitress brought out some potato wedges, and they were at least hot, but they were fairly large wedges from a Russet potato (where I had in mind some quartered baby Yukon or red potatoes).
From the week before, the only thing I tried besides the Ambar burger that I'd want to have again is the traditional stuffed pickled cabbage rolls. The "wild" mushroom salad was small and tame, and the veal stew was nothing special.
For those curious, as I was, about which Balkan country/cuisine would be featured at Ambar, evidently the proprietor is Serbian -- last week the waiter had proudly informed me that the old wooden tennis racket adorning the wall was intended as a tribute to Novak Djokovic -- though based on what I saw on the menu and read in the Washington Post, the food, while including some traditional dishes, is more a Euro-American fusion intended to appeal to the American palate. I realize Ambar has only been in business for about a month, but judging from my experience, I doubt it will survive on the increasingly competitive Barracks Row.
Updated: I originally rated Ambar 2 circles, but reconsidered after thinking back to my first visit and the tasty Ambar burger I had then.
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