I’m not that familiar with the Balkans as a region. In fact, I thought Balkans were the aliens that Captain Kirk took down. Luckily, Capitol Hill’s Ambar offers a modern take on food from the region–and a patient ear when I ask if their people settled on Earth after the dust up.
While I hop on Wikipedia to sort myself out, here are my five to try at Ambar. Food lists usually start with an appetizer and end with dessert, but that’s simply predictable. Like a first date, we’re going to start with booze and end with eating dessert off each other.
- Without a doubt, you cannot visit Ambar without trying the rakia. Rakia is a traditional spirit made from fruit, much like a Balkan moonshine. It’s often clear with an alcohol content that can go as high as 50-60% in homebrews. Rakia has a surprisingly smooth finish, despite the strength, yet packs more punch than Nikola Tesla, so you should trust your instincts to provoke that big guy next to you. Try the loza grappa ($9), a clear version distilled from Muscat grapes, or one of the flights ($21) which can feature pear and plum flavors.
- It’s also known as pljeskavica, but let’s stick with Balkan Burger ($11) because we guys have been known to pull our taints trying to pronounce the former. In its native land, this patty of various meats is usually served along the lines of a steak with sides. Ambar’s version is a flavorful mix of beef and pork served hamburger-style, with cucumber yogurt, roasted pepper spread, aged cheese, cabbage slaw and homemade potatoes.
- To my mind, the most unrealistic part of James Bond movies is that he chooses only one single foreign beauty to lavish his attention on during his forays. Call me a hedonistic globetrotter but the answer to “Which one would you like?” is always “Yes.” With that in mind, order all 3 of the pita sliders on the menu. The meatnado of beef, pork and bacon on the Angry Burger ($9) pair well with the Gouda, onion chili flake and tartar sauce. The bacon-wrapped chicken breast ($8) includes a Serbian relish, clotted cream, pickled onion and lettuce. The Suckling Pig ($8) with its horseradish dressing and caramelized apple might have a slight lead in my heart (remember that hedonism I mentioned?), but I cannot stress enough the importance of going all out on the pita party.
- Well, well. Your old friend Booze, so you meet again. I hope you ate up because you’re going to want a cocktail. Many of the libations are a play on old favorites made with rakia. The Belgrade Mule ($10) has more swagger than its cousin from Moscow, made with a plum brandy rakia.
- There is no getting around it. The Forrest Gnocchi ($9, pictured) is sexy. Chocolate mousse, orange cake, tarragon gnocchi, chocolate, more chocolate–is all beautiful, but this dessert was made to get dirty. Take a moment to soak in the beauty before you swirl it into one hot mess, then enjoy with reckless abandon.
Ambar, various locations in DC, VA, Serbia
Mary was born and raised in New York City where her family owned restaurants. Instead of eating dirt on the playground, she ate duck blood, beef tripe and pork belly. She cut her teeth at The Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton hotels, working with Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams, Michael Stipe, LeVar Burton, Jane Krakowski and others. Mary founded Girl Meets Food in 2009 as a cover for her debilitating addiction to fried chicken and was named Washington Post’s “Favorite Local Foodie.” After 13 years in hospitality, she started freelance writing for USA Today, The Washington Post, Eater, Washington City Paper, and more. Today, she provides digital marketing for hospitality clients as a content creator who’s contently creating content.