Dish of the Week: Ambar’s innovative small plates are a gold mine for adventurous eaters

Media Credit: Anya Wareck I Photographer

We began our 5 p.m. dinner with an array of spreads – the beet tzatziki ($6), ajvar ($7) and urnebes ($7).

Few classify Arlington, Virginia as a hotspot for Balkan cuisine – though Ambar’s Clarendon location proves otherwise.

Opened by Ivan Iracanin in 2016, Ambar’s artfully abundant menu stars a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat experience alongside an agglomeration of authentic Balkan small plates. Ambar is one of the only Balkan spots in the area complete with optimal service, distinct ambience and reasonably priced innovative dishes – a gratifying culinary escapade that any curious diner would be delighted to discover.

After venturing out of the District on a brisk Sunday evening, I was ecstatic to discover the restaurant’s two-block proximity to the Clarendon Metro station. Ambar sits among a jumble of spacious commercial buildings and quaint shops on Wilson Boulevard. The relatively generic entrance wildly contrasts the light, airy interior of the restaurant.

Ornamental ivy vines dangle from the ceiling over an array of brown-cushioned chairs mimicking the roofing of a classic greenhouse. Ambar’s atmosphere is both contemporary and homey, as a subtle peacefulness emanates from its organic disposition.

Ambar sports an extensive selection of Balkan dishes with unlimited brunch ($42.99), dinner ($49.99) and weekday express lunch ($25). The restaurant also offers an optional – but completely necessary – dessert tray ($7.99) to accompany any meal, and a liberal happy hour menu from 12 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, where patrons can order a wide variety of small plates ($5 a piece).

The menu is designed to integrate light starters with robust fare for a palatable, authentic experience. Try the brussel sprouts ($8) with the 6-hour lamb ($26.99) or beef short rib goulash ($22.99) after ordering a selection of spreads and charcuterie off the mezze list. From pickled vegetables and olives to a lineup of cured meats, Ambar functions as a culinary playground for adventurous eaters.

Our personable waiter, Ivan, relayed a selection of popular dishes to our table shortly after we arrived. Both the food and prices from Ambar’s menu exceeded my standard expectations of typical DMV offerings with top-notch cuisine at a reasonable price. We began our 5 p.m. dinner with an array of spreads – the beet 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 “roasted pepper and eggplant relish” retained both smokiness and sweetness, which paired exceptionally well with the urnebes – a tart, briny blended cheese dip.

Crisp 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 jumble of crunchy cucumbers, succulent cherry tomatoes and creamy feta, fulfilled its role as a light starter. The flavor was truly conventional, yet its freshness bestowed a tasteful balance upon our dining experience.

As our quintessential carnivorous dish, we selected the Balkan kebab called “cevapi” ($20.99). The beef sausages, dusted with smoked paprika, were served atop a dollop of the cheese spread we entertained earlier. The meat was expectedly tender and added a crucial element of fattiness to our vegetable-heavy feast.

I left the restaurant feeling fulfilled by the full-bodied fare I selected. Ambar’s ability to combine classic flavors with an innovative spin creates a nuanced selection of dishes, candidly appealing to everyone.

If you have a newfound hankering for upscale Balkan food, you must stop by Ambar for a top-notch dining experience. Ambar is truly a gold mine for bold eaters looking to monopolize an abundant menu without breaking the bank. With divine ambiance, attentive servers and delectable and abundant cuisine, Ambar is a must-try for any resident of the DMV.

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