Unlimited Balkan Night at Ambar

After my new apartment looked more like a living space and less like Battle of the Ikea Boxes, I went explorin’. Luckily, it was during Washington DC’s Restaurant Week, so there were many great options. I chose Ambar, because they were offering a $35 unlimited tapas deal, and with their food quality, it was an amazing discount. Plus, I have never had Balkan food before so it was just too good to resist.

Ambar offers many Kajmak spreads, so I started with the Šumadija Kajmak(white), which is a spread made with milk that hasn’t been aged. According to Google, Kajmak is a Serbian or Croatian fresh, unripened “new” cheese. It was incredibly creamy and airy, like the Italian fresh burrata and whipped butter made a baby. This version of the Kajmak did not have much seasoning in it, so all I could taste was fresh creamy dreaminess.

The orange spread to the right is the Urnebes, which is aged cow cheese with ajvar(roasted red pepper) and chilli. This spread was much stronger and spicier tasting. It was also a lot more salty too. It’s not heavy, but because the flavor is so strong, it sort of overpowered the taste of the previous spread.

The strawberry kajmak with cripsy proscuitto and micro basil. This spread arrived after the previous two, and I sort of wished it came with the Šumadija kajmak, because the strawberry version also has a lighter taste. This one was quite sweet too, like dessert. The proscuitto and micro basil added more texture contrast and cut through the sweetness, but this spread essentially was like sweet cream. One thing I really like about Kajmak is that it is an incredibly light cheese that does not taste too rich or pungent, and obviously it is very versatile and pairs well with different flavors.

This is the bread basket that came with each spread, and I swear it made the spreads even better. The bread was warm, which is a plus, but what really made me swoon were those two chubby doughnut balls on top. They are actually deep-fried sourdough. I swear they were just lightly crispy on the outside, and the insides were just so tender and squishy, they were the perfect vessel for the spreads. I was tempted to ask the waiter to skip the pita-like bread and just give me the fried sourdough balls.

The squash salad with greens, panko-crusted mozzarella, crispy bacon and pomegranate dressing. Since I was eating so much meat and cheese, I thought I should have a salad. With deep fried mozzarella and bacon. Yum. It was really fresh though and the pomegranate dressing was tangy. It was a great palate cleanser from all the rich dishes.

Grilled asparagus with a creamy, peppery veloute,  crispy proscuitto pumpkin and hard-boiled quail eggs. I usually stay away from asparagus, but these were so sweetly charred, I couldn’t resist. The creamy veloute and all the other garnishes also made it better too. Though I wish the quail eggs were soft poached, just to make the dish a little more decadent.

Palacinka, ham and cheese crepe with gouda, tartar sauce and panko bread crumbs. I ordered this because I heard great reviews about it, and I can see why. I expected to see a soft, cheesy crepe, but these were much better. The crepe spring roll had a nice crunchy, fried crust, with a cheesy, gooey filling inside. The ham added extra saltiness to the crepe but I loved it.

Drunken mussels with rakija(a type of Balkan brandy), garlic, capers, lemon and somun(flatbread).  I saw a lot of people order this, so I did as well. It. Was. Fantastic. The mussels were fresh, perfectly cooked and the soup was creamy, briny and without a strong alcoholic taste. While I would have liked fatter mussels, I still enjoyed it a lot.

Tartare steak with sundried tomato butter pickled vegetables, onions and capers. The steak was fresh, creamy, without any sinew and well-seasoned. The picked vegetables were tangy and paired well with the steak tartar.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Ambar. The quality of the food was astounding and at only $35 for everything, it’s hard to beat. What made the whole experience even sweeter was that I had an awesome waiter. He was super patient, talked me through the dishes, and while I made my best effort to eat my weight in tapas, he never made one side comment or gave me any judgy looks. He only reminded me that there is a lot of food, and asked if I’m ready for more. Every time I said yes, he just smiled and said he’ll be right back. I wish more waiters I met were like him. He made the experience a lot more fun.

Ambar usually offers a $49 unlimited tapas deal for dinner and has a similar deal for brunch, so I will probably go back. There are so many other dishes to try! And bottomless brunch!

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