Monday, June 19, 2017

AMBAR is awesome in Arlington (6-18-17)

When you have four dads and two sons who all have different likes and tastes from carnivore to vegetarian, where do you go with huge variety and the best bargain in town? AMBAR in Clarendon has a $35 unlimited small plates per person charge ($15 for kids!) and the selection is unreal with many veggie options and tons of lighter and heavier plates which I will explain below.
On arrival we tried the Cucumber Basil Smash with vodka instead of gin, muddled cuke, basil, a dash of liche juice, seltzer and some spice(chili) which was refreshing but gone in seconds, so we moved to a superb white wine recommended by our server Melvin. The Stobi Rkatseli from Tikves in macedonia 2015 has green apple and mineral flavors that would remind you of a Gruner Veltliner and drinks superbly with spicy or lighter foods. We eventually moved to a nice red from Serbia, a 2009 Budmir Triada Prokupac(that is the grape) with dry tannins and some cherry hints, but not as regarding as the white. The wines as the food are all Balkan, with d├ęcor of old B&W photos many with Russian words plastered on them so you can tell these are further north in the Balkans. The wines are from macedonia north and are very varied and all new to me and most priced under $40-50.
The menu is broken into several sections and we chose from all and shared and loved it all.
The spreads are superb and come in the form of Urnebes (aged cow cheese with ajvar and chilli glakes), Garlic Bean spread with onion and paprika, Dry Roasted Red Pepper(Ajvar) with Garlic, and Roasted Eggplant as well.
Puffy bread comes to mop it up as well as Fried sourdough and corn breads; all unavoidable.
There are the cheeses and meats which come plated like charcuterie such as Beef Prosciuto, Spicy Salami, &  Zlatibor which is an aged 3-6 month cheese like a salty feta crossed with cottage cheese.
Samuel headed right for the Frilled Veggie, Pesto & Calamata Flatbread, while his younger friend chose the Sudzuk or sausage flatbread. It is interesting to note on the menu the Balkan term for flatbread is pizza!
We adored the salads:
Organic Slaw with carrots, red onion, watermelon radish and cabbage
Ambar Spring Salad with kale, shaved carrots, apple, endive, pine nuts in an excellent elderflower-lemon dressing
Red Quinoa with broccoli, green pees and pea puree, strawberry and a superb mustard-lemon dressing.
Homemade Meat Pies are the best made with flaky phyllo and topped with garlic yogurt!
Less exciting was the Wild Boar Patty made with bacon, smoked gouda and served with pickled pesto. It was very rustica style and a bit greasy, but not bad.
The veggies are superb including Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and lemon & garlic yogurt
Grilled Asparagus with veloute, crispy prosciutto, roasted squash and a fried quail egg.
There are as always many photos on FB!
One of my favorites was the Grilled Shrimp on a bed of corn puree, while the Calamari was braised with herbs and served Gremolata (it said there was a potato salad, but I missed that).
Rainbow Trout had a crispy skin that was superb and was indeed served with the Potato Salad in a German style with no mayo, but good vinegar base.
Balkan Kebabs were a big hit and had many repeat small plate calls. They are small beef/veal rolls grilled with a small mound of paprika to dip them in as well as raw onions(skipped those).
Stuffed Sour Cabbage was filled with mashed potato, pork belly, rice and yogurt and was sublime.
There is no question that the top dish winner was the Almond Crusted Chicken which may sound simple but it was the best "fried" chicken ever served with walnuts, green apples, chive and a "wasabi" mayo, that had virtually no spice, but was still super.
Dessert was Chocolate mousse with tarragon gnocchi, black tea infused something, sprouts and so much going on, I got lost after one bite as I found it very overwhelming. Some liked it, but next time, stick to the small plates which are unlimited.
If you get hungry you can order unlimited big plates of meat and fish and more for an extra $10 per person, but not needed.
Service here is friendly and helpful as there is so much to choose from and most of the staff work in teams. We loved the way they managed to scatter the dishes and we chose to order as we went along rather than all at once; a very good move.
Balkan bistro food is bravissimo.