Capitol Cuisine: Culinary Facelifts

Ambar Reopens After Makeover; Crab Shack Opens on Eighth

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As Barracks Row returns to life, sister restaurants Ugly Mug and Valor Brewpub have created a weekend pop-up: Capitol Hill Crab Shack723 8th Street SEAlong with crabs-by-the-dozen (medium, large and jumbo), diners may order peel-and-eat shrimp, wings, and a Maryland-style seafood boil for two. Ugly Mug and Valor owner Gaynor Jablonski is a DC native who grew up eating crabs in Annapolis. When he and a friend enjoyed pounding crabs at the Quarterdeck in Arlington, he realized he could do this at Valor. So he and chef Trevor Mahoney contacted Maryland seafood wholesalers, purchased two 80-quart steamer pots, and were off and running.

Peter and I recently shared the Crab Shack sampler: deep-fried coconut shrimp, wings and jalapeno poppers. Then we ordered the crab cake sandwich, nestled in a brioche bun with lettuce and tomato. Land lubbers might like the Valor burger (beef or veggie), crispy chicken sandwich or even pizza. Throughout the shutdown, Valor has continued to brew beer; Peter sipped the house-brewed Kolsch. Crab Shack hours are 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 3-11 Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations send an email to: [email protected] or visit www.valorbrewpub.com.

Balkan Facelift
After an extensive makeover, Ambar, 523 Eighth St. SE, reopened last month for patio, rooftop and indoor dining. While “still a work in progress,” the renovation is stunning; the bright new deck—which offers a panoramic view of Barracks Row—has a retractable roof.

That’s where Peter and I dined on a warm summer evening. We considered Ambar’s bountiful $35 “Balkan Experience,” an array of mezze-size dishes including pita bread, beet tzatziki, skewers, stuffed cabbage, and much more. But we decided to go ala carte.

Our server recommended Vranee Stobi, a robust red from Macedonia. Peter chose the crisp, refreshing Ambar Sauvignon Blanc, from Moldova. You can also order beer (including Serbian brews) and cocktails.

We slathered freshly baked bread with red pepper feta and beet tzatziki. Other delights awaited: slow-cooked pork belly-stuffed cabbage, resting atop a nest of mashed potatoes and drizzled with what tasted like yogurt. Chicken skewers (white meat) were amazingly moist, thanks to buttermilk-like marinade and dipping sauce. We took our dessert—a version of baklava—home to enjoy later.

Ambar’s patio and rooftop are open Sundays from 4:30 to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday 4 to 10, Friday 4 to 11; Saturday 4:30 to 11. For reservations (recommended) call 202-813-3039 or visit www.ambarrestaurant.com.

More Barracks Row

Other Barracks Row restaurants have resurfaced for indoor service. Operating at 50 percent capacity, eateries have reconfigured their interiors to enable customers to sit six feet apart. To accomplish this, restaurateurs have gotten quite creative.

At Mekki Modern Moroccan, 517 Eighth St. SE, high-top tables are artfully situated with adequate open space in each table area. At Bombay Street Food, 524 Eighth, every other booth is left vacant. Booths open for business are set with napkins folded, points up, offering a perky welcome.

Across the street, Lavagna, 539 Eighth, has been providing carryout, or you may dine inside or on the patio.  To cool summertime palates, coming soon is Jeni’s Ice Cream, 528 Eighth, next door to the future Bitter Grace boutique. Around the corner at 325 Seventh St. SE, look for My Cake Theory Bakery later this summer.

Community Support
In the Atlas District, Thamee, 1320 H St. NE, has reopened for carryout and pickup, plus free and low-cost meals for the community. For hours and more information call 202-750-6529 or visit www.thamee.com.You can’t miss the brightly colored mural by Nigerian artist Anikan Udofia, in support of Black Lives Matter.

Navy Yard

Near Nationals Park, Salt Line has reopened its outdoor bar and dining area. Indoor service is a maybe. On a Sunday afternoon, the spacious patio and bar were hopping.

From the seafood-centric menu, our trio shared crab/pimento dip (which needed more crab), scooped up with Old Bay crab chips. Nestled in a buttered roll, the pricy ($28) lobster was tasty but slightly chewy. Escorted by a crisp green salad, the crustacean complemented a pleasant Greek rose. (We were happy to see paper drinking straws.)

Cilantro-scented clam ceviche was artistically presented in the oblong razor clam shells, resting on a bed of ice. Watermelon/cucumber/feta salad provided a refreshing side or dessert. Other sides include grilled broccoli rabe with garlic and pine nuts, and grilled corn salad.

Heartier options: clam chowder, lobster boil (2-4 people), pan-seared halibut, Portuguese stew, buckwheat bucatini with mushrooms, peas and ramps.  Located at 79 Potomac Ave. SE, Salt Line is open daily. For reservations (highly recommended), call 202-506-2368 or visit www.thesaltline.com.

Half Street Brewery & Tap has arrived. The newcomer pours Atlas draft beers (plus wines), along with New York style Andy’s pizza–served by the slice or whole. Located at 1201 Half St. SE, Half Street is currently serving indoors from 4 to 11 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.atlasbrewworks.com. Coming soon: Gatsby’s, also at 1201 Half St. SE.

On the Wharf
After a refreshing swim at the Waterside Fitness Club, Peter and I wandered over to the Wharf. There, we found outdoor sustenance at Mi Vida. “The best Mexican food in town,” Peter declared as we crunched on tortilla chips loaded with chunky guacamole. I was sipping a refreshing margarita. Since we’re eating light these days, my “entrée” was ceviche atun (tuna), with silken, sushi-grade tuna, orange wedges, avocado and cucumber, swimming in a sweet-tangy marinade. Peter ordered a pair of savory carnitas (pulled pork) tacos, served with a bowl of smoky, bacon/pinto bean soup.

Among other options are quesadillas, cod Veracruz, roasted branzino, marinated skirt steak. Lunch for two came to about $65, before tip. Service, rendered by Henry S, was excellent.

Located at 98 District Square SW, Mi Vida is open daily, call 202-516-4656 or visit www.mividamexico.com.

Nearby at 10 Pearl St. SW, is the Colada Shop, a spinoff of the Logan Circle Cuban favorite. Emerging from chef Mario Monte’s kitchen are ropa vieja bowls, potaje (Spanish bean soup), chorizo, chickpea egg bakes, rum cocktails. Call 202-932-2980 or visit www.coladashop.com.

Splitsville
Two high-profile departures: Vietnamese/American chef Kevin Tien has left Emilie’s, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. The new executive chef is Hamilton Johnson, formerly with Vidalia and replacement Honeysuckle (both gone) and American Son (downtown).

Kwame Onwuachi has resigned as executive chef at Kith/Kin, the dressy Afro-Caribbean restaurant in the InterContinental Hotel on the DC Wharf.

RAMMYS Postponed

The 38th annual RAMMY Awards, originally scheduled for July 26, have been pushed back to Sept. 20. The venue is the same: the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Nominees include many restaurants in our neighborhood.

Sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and Events DC, the black tie gala–usually jam packed with food professionals—will be scaled back. As always, the awards will honor the year’s list of hard-working finalists for their contributions to the local dining scene and the entire culinary industry. For more information visit www.ramw.org.