Washington counts few sources of Balkan cooking, which alone would make Ambar of interest. Yet the rustic, two-floor room is no mere novelty act. Influenced by Greece, Turkey, Austria and Hungary, the robust food is good anytime, fall and winter best of all.
Juicy beef-and-pork kebab, one of a trio of dishes on a $15 lunch deal that includes a pleasing veal soup, sports stripes from the grill and color from strips of roasted red pepper. Crusty veal schnitzel oozes kaymak, similar to clotted cream, with every slice; the richness of the strapping dish, bedded on mashed potatoes, is cut with caper relish.
Every house salad should be as much fun as Ambar’s, a vivid, vinegary jumble of cucumbers, red peppers and tomatoes powdered with Bulgarian cheese. And apple pie is rethought as hot, fruit-filled pastry cigars joined by swirls of caramel mousse and baked apple ice cream.
A rare satisfaction on Capitol Hill, the restaurant is warmed up with slats of wood on the walls that resemble the sheds, or ambar, used to store grain throughout Serbia. Whether on the plate or surrounding you, Ambar rings authentic.