Check Out Dishes at Ambar, Now Open on Barracks Row (Pictures)

The long-awaited Serbian spot debuts.

Chef Bocvarov serves ribič—slow-cooked veal shank with sautéed onions and carrots—in the traditional Balkan style. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

At Ambar—a new Barracks Row small-plates spot that marks its official opening on January 14—you’ll find traditional Balkan dishes as well as lighter riffs on the classics. An example of the former is sarma: stuffed sour cabbage with bay leaf and smoked pork and beef. More interpretive fare include rolovana prasetina, a pork roulade with arugula, horseradish dressing, apricot jam, caramelized apples, and pork cracklings. The ratio of classic dishes to riffs is about 30 to 70, says owner Ivan Iricanin.

Iricanin is partners in this project, as well as in Masa 14 and El Centro D.F., with Richard Sandoval and Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro). The owners plucked their top toque, sous, and pastry chefs from a modern restaurant in Belgrade that they discovered on a food research trip. Executive chef Bojan Bocvarov had just a few months to learn the menu the owners have been developing. Offerings from pastry chef Danilo Bucan—whose “dessert bar” prep area is plainly visible to the downstairs dining room—include a signature dish he calls Forest Gnocchi, featuring a “gnocchi” of tarragon, cream, and kuzu (Japanese arrowroot), plus chocolate grounds, chocolate mousse, passionfruit espuma, bitter-orange cake, orange gel, and black-tea-infused cream.

Iricanin enlisted his longtime friend Branimir Lukic of Serbian architecture firm Ateljeal to create the design at Ambar, a two-level space that features five distinct environments. Downstairs, a banquette lines the long, narrow dining room. It’s attached to a wall lined with light, rustic wood meant to suggest the corn storage barns—called ambar—that dot the Serbian countryside. Upstairs, a copper-topped bar faces high-top tables leading back to a 40-person rooftop patio. At the front of this second level, a small raised area hosts a few tables with comfy upholstered chairs. The second floor has been pushed back from the front wall to create a two-level entranceway that allows for greater flow between the two stories and an overall sense of cohesiveness, says Lukic. Contrasting with the rustic white-wood stairs leading to the second floor is custom Swedish wallpaper with a picture frame pattern—Lukic says the idea is to link traditional and modern.

When drinking at Ambar, the thing to try is rakia, a Serbian brandy often made from fruit like plum or apricot, as well as nuts. The restaurant will offer more than 20 varieties, which guests can order straight or as a base in riffs on classic cocktails. Iricanin will also stock two popular Balkan lagers: Lav (which means lion) and Jelen (which means deer). Click through the slideshow to check out the space and a few of the dishes.

Ambar. 523 8th Street, SE; 202-813-3039.

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