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DINING: The Bar at the Ambassador goes beyond 'Nawlins

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Dining - A&E

For months, the corner of Ninth and Pennsylvania streets sported signage for BarYats, teasing us with the possibility that, after a show at the Phoenix or the symphony or anywhere else downtown, there would be an easy-to-park spot to stop in for a cold drink and a hot bowl of inexpensive but oh-so-comforting Cajun cuisine.

Well, in a last-minute game change reported in IBJ and elsewhere, Yats’ owner removed himself from the eatery just before opening.

All is not lost, though. And maybe not anything. What’s now called the Bar at the Ambassador (39 E. Ninth St., 602-2279) may have swapped a familiar name for a generic one, but there are still plenty of reasons to stop in.

Let’s start with atmosphere. Eschewing gimmickry, The Bar at the Ambassador is a simple and elegant box of a room with a predominant-but-not-pushy bar taking up a significant percentage of the space. Dark wood dominates but doesn’t intimidate. On our visit, the television at the bar was—mercifully—turned down, the service was friendly, and the chef even came out to introduce some dishes and to offer a taste of one of the dishes we didn’t order.
 

Dining Red Beans and Rice is among the hearty offerings at the new Ninth Street eatery. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The simple-now-but-soon-to-be-expanded menu offers tastes of what might have been with Yats’ influence, including a comforting, hearty plate of Red Beans and Rice with smoked ham and a choice of smoked or hot sausage ($8). But there are also dishes we wouldn’t have automatically expected from the former partner, including a Mock Turtle Soup with Dry Sherry ($4/$6).

Fried Shrimp ($9.50) and Fried Catfish Filets ($8.50) satisfied even without considering their low price points, proving that “fried” doesn’t have to be a dirty word when it comes to enhancing rather than trivializing the taste of seafood. Both dishes—and the accompanying cole slaw—hinted at the work we might expect from chef John Maxwell, a Louisiana native whose resume includes time at Antoine’s and Maxwell’s Cabaret in New Orleans. Given what seems to be a marked creative streak, his specials are likely to be the first thing I’ll consider on a future visit.

With the Abby Coffeehouse and Urban Element now gone from this stretch of Pennsylvania Street, The Bar at the Ambassador is more than just a welcome addition, it’s a necessary one. Here’s hoping this solid and ambitious neighborhood restaurant finds the neighborhood welcoming.•

__________

Last in a month-long series of reviews of new downtown-ish restaurants.

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  • Awesome Food
    I recently was able to experience the food prepared by Chef Maxwell at a fundraiser he catered. It was authentically cajun and delicious! I look forward to visiting The Bar in the near future for a try at some of his other dishes.
  • Very Authentic Food
    On 11/8/10 had the fantastic opportunity to sit with Chef John and taste nearly his entire menu. Truly authentic, dynamic South East Louisiana cuisine. Everyone working here loves their dogs and customers.

    The Oyster Artichoke Soup was elegant, like velvet, and would travel 300 miles for more. The Catfish so very thinly sliced, fried in Peanut Oil, and lightly dusted with Zatarains would be the reason to come back twice in one day. Obivious the Gumbo was homemade by spending hours on the rue. The Red Beans and Jambalaya were stick to your ribs delicious.
    Please do not miss supporting a new, local restaurant honoring the cuisine of the South.
  • Don't even try it!!
    Myself and 4 friends were already at a restaurant having drinks and decided to give this place a try on Friday night. There were 2 other tables with people but from the experience received you would have thought they had a packed house and only a one legged server on staff. It was a trainwreck from the time we stepped in the door...15 min wait for 4 bottled beers, no utensils, the "French Dip" was nothing more than Steak-Ums on a bun. Getting change took fifteen minutes and the extra $20 I assumed would be broken up to allow me to tip was returned with a $10 and a $1. The waitress had better reconsider the position...I have served tables at many establishments and can tell you that this place will not last.
  • do not eat here
    I recently had a lunch visit to the new bar called 'The Bar' (on 9th and Penn - downtown) or what was suppose to be Yatz. Apprently, the business relationship between the partners fell thru. The owners of Yatz pulled out, from what I heard from Greg @ what is know as 'The Bar'. The experience was HORRIBLE! I went with 8 other co-workers. They didnt have room enough for us at one table so we were split. The first table ordred and received their food. Our table, unfortunately, did not get our food right away. After 15 minutes later and seeing that other people who arrived after us was getting their food we began to get concerned. Our waitress told us that our food would be right up. While we waited, Greg offered us a glass of wine. Of course, we were on our lunch break and so we were not able to drink. Still after almost 20 minutes we still had not received our food. We told Greg that we would pay for our food and take it to go because it was time to go back to work. The co-workers at the other table were floored when Greg accepted our payment. Greg explained to us that he would take off a precentage but did not tell us how much the precentage would be. After another 10-15 minutes of waiting for Greg to just take care of our bills. I told him to just forget it and void the transactions because we had to get back to work. At the same time our food was coming up. Greg stated that he would box it up and give us our food free of charge. He asked me to leave my name and number so that he could call me later to go over how he could rectify the situation. When we got back to work, with our food, it had turned out to be that the burgers were burnt on the outside and raw on the inside! We were flabergasted! After work, I still had not received a call and walked back over to the restaurant just to make sure the transactions were indeed voided. Greg did explain that he did void the transactions but he was 'unsure of the proper way to handle this because they are a new restaurant and was not prepared to handle that many people at that time.' He also explained that they had a new menu. I told Greg my biggest concern was that they served raw food! And that it was a health issue! He just brushed it off and gave the excuse 'the burgers were a new item on the menu and that everybody had ordered burgers at the same time, and the cook may have took the wrong burgers off the grill.' I was astonished at the poor excuse he gave me. He said that MAYBE in 2 weeks that he would invite 'me and my friends' back for a lunch. And on our way out the door Greg offered us another glass of wine!!! I was just completely disgusted and so were my friends and co-workers. After I got home, I checked my message that Greg left on my voicemail. Only if you could hear it!!!!! Needless to say I WILL NEVER BE BACK! EVEN IF IT WAS FREE! And I encourage whoever else not to eat there also! They are not able to handle big parties, their cooks are not experienced, and their manager doesnt care about their customers! What a waste of an hour and half!

    P.S.
    Greg also stated that the restaurant was doing a 'soft opening'. From what I understand of a soft opening it is basically like a dry run and you invite clients to experience the bar or restaurnat before the actual Grand opening and oftentimes it is free of charge.

    I have no eympathy for this business and I hope it fails!
  • unhappy satisfied
    worst place ever! Waited an hour and a half. Food was uncooked. Manager Greg was unapologetic..and said 'maybe he will invite me and my friends back for lunch.' what a waste of time... DO NOT GO THERE!

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