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Llama Inn

Peruvian Williamsburg Brooklyn

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#1 Sneakeater

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Posted 19 December 2015 - 11:28 PM

This is a new entry in that new sort-of-genre I keep talking about: mid-priced restaurants run by "ethnic"/immigrant chefs with serious credentials (usually EMP or Per Se) cooking more or less Euro-cheffy versions of their native cuisine. Uncle Boon's, Fung Tu, Bun-Ker, Noreetuh, Wong-now-Chomp Chomp, there are more.  There are perhaps grounds to criticize this sort-of-genre (although I personally don't buy them):  it can lead to food that's fussy, contrived, overpriced, and deracinated.  But you have to admit that it's worlds better than the I-took-a-month-long-vacation-in-Vietnam-and-now-I'm-a-Vietnamese-chef genre that it supplanted.

Here, Chef Erik Ramirez (a) cooked at EMP and (b) is from Peru.

The restaurant occupies the triangular corner space at Withers and Meeker in Williamsburg (although the address is on Withers, the entrance is on Meeker) (if you walk down Withers, though, you can have the fun of threading through the interesting crowd outside Bamonte's). The walls are mostly glass, the other materials are all hard, and the ceiling is high. If the place were full, the din would be unbearable. Happily for us older customers, that hasn't happened yet. But if this place is to stay open, it will have to. Although they have the expected '90s-indie playlist, they don't play it loud. Yet. (What I guess I'm saying is that if Roz wants to go here, she should go soon.)

The food is hard to rate in terms of "destination"-worthiness. It's excellently prepared, tasty, and imaginative. The flavor profile is distinctive, and it's not what most of us would want to eat every day. (The food could in no way be described as "carb-laden stodge".) The menu, at least at present, is a bit limited.

So by all rights, this should be a very good neighborhood place. BUT: the technical quality of the cooking is EXTREMELY high. And there is nowhere else in New York serving food remotely like this. So you tell me whether it's worth a trip.

I managed to eat here only on my second attempt. The first time I was closed out:  they list their Thursday/weekend hours as ending at 1 AM -- but when I arrived at about 10:45 one Saturday, I was told the kitchen had already shut down. 9:30 or so on a Thursday proved safer.

I started with pork belly anticuchos (normally I'd make a knee-jerk purchase of beefheart -- but I'm about to make a beefheart pot roast that will last several nights at home). The cubes of belly pretty perfectly grilled, char siu sauce, nice pickled chilis, a spicy mayo that thankfully was apportioned modestly enough to avoid creating the plateful of glop that most kitchens would make of this.  A solid success.
 
But the meal achieved lift-off with the main dish:  goat neck under crusty discs of red quinoa, with various Andean root vegetables (potato, turnip) and cilantro ("OF COURSE cilantro", my wife would have added) in a gravy based on chicha de jora (the beery fermented kind).  This is the kind of dish that justifies this kind of place.  We're all used to having goat at "ethnic" Caribbean and Indian greasy spoons.  You never get pieces of high-quality, well-butchered goat meat like this.  And you never have it so perfectly cooked.  I mean, perfectly.  I tend to think of goat as a grosser version of lamb -- all gristle and shards and funk -- but this dish showed that goat needn't be gross at all.  The gravy was pleasingly complex, but -- as with almost all Peruvian food -- not spicy.  The crunchy quinoa discs were, well, crunchy.
 
Dessert, cheese-flavored ice cream with toasted Andean grains, was fine.
 
The staff could not be sweeter, or more enthusiastic.  They are clearly caught up in Chef Ramirez's vision -- they think they have something special here -- and it's a pleasure to see that.
 
Cocktails were excellent.  In fact, they did a much better job of integrating local Peruvian ingredients and flavors into cocktails here than anyplace I found in Lima this January.
 
Let me go farther.  I'd say Llama Inn does a better job of modernizing Peruvian cusine, Andean branch -- note that that's what it is, basically:  Andean, not Criollo or, for the most part, any of the other regions (sure, there's ceviche and tiradito) -- than any restaurant that I, for one, was able to find in Lima last January.  (To be fair, I only had one week.)  It's crazy to prefer this borderline-neighborhood place in Williamsburg to Central, The Best Restaurant In Latin America®.  But there you have it.
 
Having said that, I don't want to oversell this place.  I'm not saying Llama Inn is one of the great or essential restaurants of New York.  I'm saying that it serves intriguing, (extremely) well-prepared food that isn't like anything else you can get around here.  Obviously, I recommend it.


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#2 Sneakeater

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 09:06 PM

Oh, the cocktails are by Jessica Gonzalez and Lynnette Marrero.  No wonder they're so good.  Duh.


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#3 LiquidNY

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 09:14 PM

Do they serve cuy?

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#4 Sneakeater

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 09:29 PM

No.


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#5 Suzanne F

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Posted 10 January 2016 - 03:16 AM

Do they serve llama? (Llama in, llama out) How about vicuna? Sherman Adams?


I don't actually know what a handbasket is -- but whatever they are, singer-songwriters are in the first ones going to hell. -- Sneakeater, 29 March 2018 - 12:06 AM

 

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#6 Sneakeater

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Posted 10 January 2016 - 03:40 AM

Nothing exotic.
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#7 Sneakeater

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Posted 16 February 2016 - 07:33 PM

I would say that, of all the reviews Llama Inn has received lately, the Robs' most closely approximates my exact evaluation.


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#8 johannabanana

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 04:04 PM

What was your Llama Inn story? I'm curious!



#9 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 04:24 PM

Oh, I forgot.

We had a reservation for four people.  Before taking our table, we assembled at the bar as we straggled in seriatim and commenced drinking.  It was good -- we had a corner, which is perfect for a group of four.
 
At one point, before we were seated at our table, the hostess came over and asked us if we would give our table up to some "elderly" people who had just walked in and who, because they were "elderly", had rejected the table they were shown.  Respecting our elders, we agreed.
 
I looked at the "elderly" couple, and they looked younger than me (though considerably older than my dining companions).
 
We finally finished our drinks (the cocktails there are good enough that you have several) and asked to be shown to our table (the one the "elderly" couple had rejected).  It was a high small round counter around a pillar, with high stools instead of seats. 
 
I told the hostess I was even older than the "elderly" couple and the four of us were going to eat at the bar.
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#10 LiquidNY

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 04:29 PM

I think you should have to be at least 65 before you qualify for special treatment for being "elderly".

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#11 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 04:30 PM

In Williamsburg, late 40s must seem "elderly".


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#12 johannabanana

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Posted 17 February 2016 - 07:02 PM

Funny story!

 

This thing has happened to us repeatedly at Casa Mono: at the time of reserving we request not to be seated in their alcove, and they proceed to always show us to a table in the alcove on the night. 



#13 small h

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 08:12 PM

My dad & I ended up here after an afternoon of snacking on flavored tablets at the Museum of Food and Drink and drinking beer among the strollers at Spritzenhaus, where my dad complained that there were no American-style ales and then sulked into his obviously very unsatisfactory Bluepoint Toasted Lager. We had a 5pm reservation, right as the restaurant opened, and were seated at a nice corner table in the back. Our server was very good; the kitchen was sloooooow. Our first and second rounds - can't really call them courses - were served nearly a half hour apart. We had the tuna tiradito and the tilefish ceviche, both of which were pleasant enough but nothing I'd rush back for. No one came by to try to get me to use my spoon to finish the liquid, which was fortunate, because I didn't especially want to. I was much more impressed with the beet salad, which had a lot going on. All the elements worked well both separately and together, especially the hominy or whatever that was.  My dad went crazy over the mushrooms in the lentil salad, smoked maitakes and roasted oysters. For dessert, we had a custard (which is called muna on my check, but muna is also the herb in the beet salad, so I am confused) topped with macerated strawberries and a poppy seed / meringue lid. The music was pretty loud.

 

I'd like to post a picture of my favorite part of the meal, a beautiful big ass shrimp, but I'm getting this error message when I try to link to the photo: "You are not allowed to use that image extension on this community."



#14 taion

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 10:00 PM

Try re-uploading to Imgur or something?


I didn't tip at Per Se either.

#15 small h

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Posted 16 April 2016 - 10:11 PM

I don't have an Imgur account. I thought Google photos would be fine, but apparently not.







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Peruvian, Williamsburg, Brooklyn