I went to visit Peru last year and explored the full range of Peruvian cuisine, from the acclaimed eco-friendly fine dining establishment Central restaurant to sanguche (Peruvian sandwich) joint. I learned that my taste bud is perhaps more American/European than South American as I had some mixed experiences with the Peruvian food, which draws influence from a variety of sources such as Latin American, Japanese and Andean. The flavor and texture of food that I had during my stay didn’t always agree with my taste, although I could never forget the sanguche that I had at La Lucha chain in Lima. Despite its growing influence in the global culinary world, Peruvian cuisine hasn’t been a big part of New York dining scene (in general, South American cuisine other than perhaps Brazilian is still very underrepresented in Big Apple). I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Llama Inn that opened recently under the helm of chef Erik Ramirez, and I wanted to see how the kitchen presents the Peruvian flavor and texture as I remembered from my time there last year. Overall, I was very pleased with the versatility of modern interpretation of Peruvian food that the kitchen displayed.
I wouldn’t call the food at Llama Inn authentic Peruvian food, although the inspiration and ingredients are definitely from Peru. Any meal at this place should start with at least one or two anticuchos (skewered snacks); I ordered all four on the menu and particularly enjoyed pork belly (with pickled chilis and spicy mayo on top) and head on shrimp (with adobo and garlic seasoning and lime on the side). There were other pleasant surprises. Quinoa is a staple of Latin American food, but I didn’t expect the kitchen to mix it up with banana, avocado, bacon and cashew to create a very delightful but not heavy flavor. This could be the type of salad that would make die-hard vegetarians (minus the bacon) or locavores swoon over. Peruvian food is also well-known for its raw fish (ceviche or tiradito), and I really enjoyed the mix of persimmon and yuzu that accompanied red snapper tiradito that was silky smooth.
The highlight of the night, however, belonged to the modern take of Peruvian-Chinese classics, lomo saltado. which is basically a stir fry that includes beef steak with onions and other vegetables, typically served with potato fries and rice. The one at Llama Inn replaced rice with scallion pancake to eat like you normally do for tacos. I absolutely loved this mix of beef tenderloin, red onion, tomato, avocado (served on the side), cilantro and pickled chilis. Each bite was pure decadence and how matter how full I was, my dining companion and I almost finished the entire thing, which seems more apt for sharing by three or more people! Beef was cooked very nicely and the combination of vegetables worked very well as well, while fries were also delicious. This is the food I would absolutely come back to Llama Inn for, perhaps with more people this time because I was beyond full for several hours before I went to bed. I still mustered willpower to order at least one dessert, and the chocolate and lucuma dessert was quite delightful without being overly sweet.
Llama Inn has an absolutely charming décor, with a mix of sophistication and Williamsburg casualness. The restaurant has a full bar, and I highly recommend trying their Llama del Rey, which is sort of like sangria but way better than the run-of-the-mill sangrias elsewhere in the city. Getting a reservation wasn’t particularly challenging, and although the dining room was nearly packed throughout the course of my meal, it doesn’t feel too cramped as the spatial design was quite nicely done, with a bar at the center with tables on the periphery. I’m hopeful that Llama Inn can help pave the way for Peruvian food to gain more popularity in NYC. Not sure I would call it a pioneer, but it certainly deserves its recognition.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 50 Withers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Telephone: (718) 387-3434