The Ambassador Dining Room looked the same last Thursday night as it had for nearly three decades.
John B. Bottcher, the restaurant's owner, was presiding as usual over the dining room with an old world elegance from its gilt-framed paintings, dark wood accents and muted colors. The customers, the majority with gray hair, knew their crab cake would be made with large lumps of crab meat, the whipped potatoes would taste the same as they always have and the mood would be as quiet and genteel as old Baltimore can be. To the regulars, the Ambassador, in the Canterbury Road apartment building, is more than a restaurant it's a private club where everyone knows their names and favorite cocktails.
But Thursday was the end of an era. A complimentary slice of yellow cake with chocolate icing for each diner and a folded yellow note with gold seal on each of the tables marked the transition.
John Bottcher, who was beginning his 29th year at the Ambassador, announced in the note that he has sold the restaurant to Jeffrey Crise and John Feldbush, two young men with hotel and private club experience who say they hope to carry on the culinary tradition that has been virtually unchanged since the dining room opened in 1931.
"I'll miss it," says the 58-year-old Mr. Bottcher. "These have been happy years. The nicest people in the world have come through these doors. I have a rapport with these customers. And they feel like they own the place. If something isn't right they could tell me about it and I would try to correct it. And I hope it will stay that way."
Mr. Bottcher, who says he can no longer keep up the pace of a 60-hour work week, wanted to find the right people to continue the Ambassador legacy. He thinks he has found them in Mr. Crise and Mr. Feldbush. Mr. Crise, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, has been a chef at the Elkridge Country Club and the L'Hirondelle Club. Mr. Feldbush has been catering director or banquet manager for Omni, Marriott and Sheraton hotels.
The partners say they would like to open the courtyard for lunch, private parties and wedding receptions. The restaurant, which now stops serving at 8 p.m., will probably be open to 9 or 10 p.m. weekdays and 10 or 11 p.m. on weekends. And there may be a Sunday buffet in the future.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bottcher says he's going to rest for a couple of months, stay in town and eventually find a less demanding job. And he remains nostalgic about leaving the grand dame of Baltimore restaurants.
"There wasn't any place like it in the '30s," he says wistfully, "and there still isn't."
If you're Jewish you love it as a celebration of your culture. If you're not, you'll have a great opportunity to learn about another way of life. The event: The first Baltimore-Washington Jewish Food & Life Expo 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Pikesville Armory, 610 Reisterstown Road.
"We decided to establish an Expo in the Baltimore-Washington area because we felt it was a way to express Jewish culture and heritage in a fun and entertaining way," said Rabbi Sholomo Porter, director of the sponsoring Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Studies.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $2.50 for children under 12. For information or to purchase tickets in advance, call 764-1553. Proceeds will go toward the Etz Chaim Center.
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