Llama Inn (50 Withers Street, Brooklyn; 718-387-3434) is located right next to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but the sound you’re most likely to hear inside is the scraping of utensils across hand-thrown ceramic plates. The triangular patch of Williamsburg real estate was chosen by chef/owner Erik Ramirez because it resembled a building you might find while strolling down a street in Lima, and it happens to be the site of a former gas station. However, outside of filling people up, that’s where the nod to the building’s history ends.
The seasonal menu is a modern mash-up cloaked in Peruvian overtones, with Ramirez drawing inspiration from the South American nation’s Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish culinary influences — and there’s plenty here to pique your interest. An open kitchen complete with a grill allows guests to saddle up for a firsthand look at beef heart and pork belly anticuchos (skewers) being prepared. At the bar, which serves as the restaurant’s centerpiece, pisco sours are made with purple potatoes, puréed and strained into cocktail glasses.
A whole roasted chicken, which many of New York’s Peruvian restaurants serve, is available here, but Ramirez’s variation pushes the cuisine forward; it’s served with fried potatoes and hot yellow aji sauce. A beef tenderloin stir-fry is served with scallion pancakes instead of rice, and small mountains of quinoa come with banana, bacon, and creamy avocado. The chef’s idea is to use a diversity of ingredients and flavors in each dish. Much like the name on the restaurant’s door, which was inspired by a vintage photo of a llama sticking its head out of a New York taxi — A Llama in Times Square — some ideas are just one of a kind.
“We’re not serving traditional Peruvian food,” Ramirez says. “I am surprised there haven’t been any other chefs that have tried to do something a little different. Everybody has this idea of [Peruvian food] being chicken and ceviche. There’s so much more to it.”
Another essential element at Llama Inn: the beverage pairings, which focus on South American wines as well as plenty of piscos and sherries. “Pisco is to Lima as PBR is to Williamsburg,” according to Llama Inn’s website.