Although I am celebrating my one year anniversary of becoming an official Washingtonian, I'm ashamed to admit I haven't been as adventurous lately with exploring my city's food scene. Wanting to break out of my usual routine and comfort zone, I was excited when my mom came to visit recently, because it provided an opportunity to get out and explore.
For a year now, I've heard absolutely glowing reviews for Ambar, a Balkan restaurant in the cozy Capitol Hill neighborhood. Because exploring the nearby Eastern Market flea market on the weekends is one of my favorite DC pastimes, I knew Ambar would be a perfect choice so that my mom and I could visit both without moving our car (a critical consideration in that area as parking is at a premium).
As my first time visiting Ambar and my first time enjoying Balkan food, I was excited to see what this experience would have in store.
Ambar's menu is set up tapas-style, so they recommend ordering two to three plates per person and sharing. For those in a group, or who have a heartier appetite, they also offer "The Balkan Experience," an endless selection of anything on the menu (drinks included) for $39 (it's a bit higher for the dinner version of this). My mom and I opted to go for the a la carte style of ordering, and when I let our waiter know that I had dietary restrictions he brought out an allergen menu, which was helpfully annotated with allergens and by diet (vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian).
Gluten-Free brunch menu options are mainly soups, salads, and egg dishes. They don't have gluten-free bread but they can prepare sandwiches bread-less. Most of the gluten-free items are dairy-free, or can be modified to be so. I appreciated that the kitchen staff who brought out each dish I ordered verified that it was gluten and dairy-free before setting it down.
As my mom and deliberated our choices, our waiter brought out a lovely red pepper spread as a sampler, complete with fresh veggies for dipping. I enjoyed the flavorful spread, and it reminded me of harissa, just without the brings-tears-to-your-eyes heat.
For an appetizer, I ordered a cup of chicken soup, and oh my gosh what it soup it was. Don't be deceived by the simple ingredient list- chicken, broth, carrots, celery, parsnip- this soup is lovingly crafted and tastes like it was slow simmered to ensure maximum comfort food value. The broth is rich and soothing and the chicken and veggies were perfectly tender. This may be going overboard, but this soup deserves a place in the pantheon of the best soups I have had in my life!
It would be difficult for any dish to follow that soup, but the final dish I ordered- Ambar's veggie omelet- certainly arrived in a flashy style with the sheer generosity of the portion size of the food. The omelet comes with a mound of vegetables (peppers, cucumbers, and onion), and although I tried, I couldn't come close to clearing my plate. The omelet was good, but a bit on the dry and bland side, so I added a bit of the red pepper spread to it for a contrasting flavor.
My one complaint was that I wished there was a breakfast potato (as is states on the menu) or other starch option to round out all the vegetables and protein in my meal. Ambar's potatoes must not be gluten or dairy-free because they were omitted from my meal but not my mom's.
Overall I really enjoyed my experience at Ambar. The location was great, there were plenty of menu options, and the generous portions ensured I left absolutely full and happy. While the wow-factor of each dish varied, all earned at least a passing grade and I look forward to coming back the Ambar sometime soon to test out their lunch or dinner options.