Saturday, January 24, 2015

Serbia: Ambarf

Wow. It's hard to express how underwhelmed we were by Ambar. After all, the Washington Post's review is more than decent (I should have known better, as I find Tom Sietsema to be pretty consistently wrong). You know you've had a bad meal when the best part is the friendly busboy who tries to make friends with our toddler. I want to eat at his restaurant. Things started badly when we arrived at the admittedly off hour of 3:30ish and were told brunch was almost over so we could order in 4 minutes or come back at 5. Ummmmm ok. We were shown to a table with 2 seats (I assure you my toddler is visible and has been known to sit at restaurants and order food that we pay for with money). We weren't offered a high chair and there wasn't room for one either. He's a toddler, without a designated place to sit, he will stand on your pillows with his muddy sneakers. So there.

OK fine, people with small children should just stay home. The waiter was unhelpful and unfriendly and the food was downright bad. I wanted cevapcici because it pops up on so many Balkan menus. Remember our voyage to the Albanian Imbiss at the start of all this? And when we finally made it to the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bosnians of Berlin? I'd take either of those holes-in-the-wall over the dressed up hay hut full of Bottomless-Brunching Hill staffers. If this is how DC dining has improved since I lived on the Hill - no thank you. The dinner menu doesn't look terrible. The brunch menu just plain sucks. Waffles with nutella and strawberry have nothing to do with Serbia and doesn't belong on any menu in November. BLTs? Prosciutto omelets and sandwiches? A smear of ajar does not a Serbian dish make. None of this would matter if they served delicious food. My meat pie tasted like it had been sitting in the oven since brunch started. I don't know what it was supposed to be, but I do not exaggerate when I say that it seemed like something that one might find at a lame potluck brunch. It was a dried out strata with cheap sausage. It was greasy and dry and salty and not much else. My husband's Balkan Burger took ridiculously long to come out, but was a very little bit better only because the concept of using cevapcici to make a burger makes sense in this sort of restaurant. Made with good quality meat, garnished with ripe tomatoes and non-sad lettuce, with more than a whisper of sauce/cheese...the dish would be really good, if not really a burger. In reality, the meat was tough and more salty than flavorful. The lettuce and tomato were flavorless/purposeless and the sauce and cheese insufficient. Any remotely serious restaurant should not be serving oven fries that have been in a warming tray for hours. Also the website has been down a bunch. This is a Richard Sandoval restaurant, not some mom-and-pop place that can't figure out how to make a website. Amber was awful. Really, really awful. 

Senegal is on Fire

My husband jokes that my blog has killed most of the restaurants that I've visited. Not true: I can't be held accountable for the challenges of the restaurant industry, but it is the case that a few places I've visited have closed and a lot of places I've wanted to visit closed before I had the chance. Still, what happened when we visited Chez Dior took the cake. It took a long while for us to get around to going to Chez Dior, mostly because it's in Hyattsville, which is a bit of a hike from Chez Us, but last Sunday we decided to make the trek.  All was well - the toddler napped on the way there, we had no trouble finding the restaurant, and at first glance, Hyattsville seemed nicer/more interesting than I had expected. So we entered the restaurant and sat down. Literally minutes later - we hadn't even gotten menus or water or a hello from the establishment - several people came running out of the kitchen yelling "fire, call 911!" None of the other (Senegalese?) customers looked remotely troubled, but as responsible parents ... we grabbed our stuff and went back out to the street. One of the diners did mention that it was probably just an oven fire and would be out in no time. However, minutes later, ten - no exaggeration - fire trucks rolled up, sirens blazing. With the belief that once the fire department has been called, a restaurant can't reopen until the health department declares it safe, and our excited-by-all-the-woowoos-but-on-the-verge-of-fussiness/starvation toddler in tow, we decided that a Senegalese lunch was not in the cards and ate at Franklin's, which I am very sorry to report was not only not at all Senegalese, but also really ordinary and not very good. My husband had The Day After Thanksgiving sandwich, which can be a thing of beauty, but depends heavily on good gravy (at least if you are going to douse it in gravy, it does) and this gravy was pretty gluey and not very turkey-ey. I hate huge menus and I hate them even more when I am trying to choose something while wrangling a wriggly toddler. I ordered a sandwich with the ridiculous name of Open-Faced Mediterranean Vegetarian Flatbread Thing (I also hate ridiculously named menu items), which was oily and because my toddler's idea of cooking is literally dumping things (i.e., he gets to dump a cup of flour in the mixing bowl when we make bread), he could have made this because all they did was warm up an industrial piece of pita bread and dump some oily packages of cheap marinated artichokes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. on it. I will say that Franklin's is also a general store and we had a lot of fun poking around the store, especially the toy section.

So, while it pains me greatly, Hyattsville is just not a corner of the world I make it to very often. Maybe I'll find myself up there again and can update this review...but in case I don't, I'll be moving along to Serbia in the interest of keeping the ball rolling ....