D.C. gets its first modern Balkan restaurant with the opening of Ambar on Barracks Row today.
Owner Ivan Iricanin, who’s also a partner in Masa 14 and El Centro D.F., says he’s been waiting for the chance to open a restaurant paying homage to his home country of Serbia since he moved to the U.S. in 2005.
Restaurateur Richard Sandoval, who owns Masa 14, El Centro D.F., Zengo, and other restaurants across the world, is also a partner and consultant for the restaurant. The two went on a research trip to Serbia and across the Balkans last fall. That’s also how they found their executive chef Bojan Bocvarov, who was working at a Belgrade restaurant owned by a friend of Iricanin called Little Factory of Tastes (translated).
Instead of the heavy dishes that tend to dominate Balkan cuisine, Ambar is going for lighter small-plate fare. For example: cevapi, a minced ground beef and pork kebab that is one of the most popular dishes in the Balkans, is traditionally served with raw onions and a pita-like bread or fries. At Ambar, it will be served on a bed of roasted red peppers with cheese on top. Other dishes include smoked bacon-wrapped grilled stuffed prunes with goat cheese (above) and homemade cheese pie on tzaziki salad with prosciutto and arugula. Prices will range from $5 to $15.
Iricanin says the place will have a scene-y vibe similar to his other restaurants. There are two bars on the second level—one inside and one on the rooftop. Ambar will have DJs on Fridays and Saturdays.
Ambar will also serve over 30 varieties of rakia, a fermented fruit liqueur that comes in flavors like cherry, walnut, plum, and grape. Many of the cocktails will be made from rakia. There will also be about 40 wines from Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and throughout the Balkan region. After all, Iricanin’s hometown of Trstenik, Serbia, is known as “Land of the Wine Goddesses.”
Photo courtesy Ambar