Luck of The Llama

Eric Medsker

Brooklyn diners embrace Chef Erik Ramirez and his Peruvian cuisine.

The time for modern Peruvian has come—at least according to Chef Erik Ramirez and the host of diners who have flocked to his recently opened Llama Inn in Brooklyn, New York. 

Somewhere in the back of his mind Chef Ramirez always knew he wanted to explore his roots in greater detail. But first he built his restaurant résumé: Clocking time at the former Nuela, the Nuevo Latino restaurant run by Douglas Rodriguez protégé Adam Schop, then at pan-Peruvian restaurant Raymi, and finally making a solid run as sous chef at Eleven Madison Park. 

And then it was his time: Ramirez took the plunge just nine months ago and opened Llama Inn. He hasn’t slowed down since. 

In fact, it seems Ramirez is constantly speeding up—adding brunch, then a lunch of Peruvian-style sanguche (sandwiches) and subtropical fruit smoothies, and this summer opening the rooftop for a separate raw bar and lounge. All the while, he continues to carve out a niche as the place for diners to keep going back to in Brooklyn’s super trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, where the restaurant landscape is dynamic and intensely competitive.

“With so much competition, it’s important to stay fresh and create different experiences in different parts of the space,” says Ramirez, of his decision to build several tangential service models. “Dinner is more of a creative expression for the chef, but brunch, lunch, and the rooftop keep people excited and coming back for different things.” 

A first-generation Peruvian-American and a native of New Jersey, Chef Ramirez sees nothing foreign about Peruvian food or ceviche, although both have become something of a trend across the country. But there is something new about the 60-seat Llama Inn, which has been described by Chef Ramirez and others as Brooklyn’s answer to Peruvian. Inspiration for the restaurant’s name came from the 1957 Life magazine photo showing a llama with its head sticking out of the window of a New York taxi. 

The restaurant’s early success is likely due to Ramirez’s fine-dining training, his perfectionism, and an uber-creative approach to menu development. At Llama Inn, he’s sought to put his own spin on classic Peruvian dishes like roast chicken, skewers, and lomo saltado, a stir-fried beef dish that was influenced by Chinese immigrants and includes onion, tomatoes, aji amarillo peppers, and even french fries. 

“People relate to Chinese and Japanese food more than other [global] cuisines and those flavors are also common in Peru, so the Peruvian cuisine has become more approachable and understandable for New Yorkers and others around the country,” he says. 

For his lomo, Chef Ramirez starts in the same classic way: with beef cooked in soy and vinegar and scattered with french fries. But he presents the dish with delicate, Chinese-style pancakes that are spiked with scallions and that are used to wrap the meat, along with spicy Peruvian rocoto pepper sauce, pickled chilies, and avocado. 

For those street food skewers, or anticuchos, he marinates beef hearts, pork belly, and head-on shrimp in herbs, chilies, and—in the case of a chicken thigh—fermented soybean. Then he grills them over a wood-fueled fire before serving them tableside on a thick wooden board. 

Instead of focusing solely on ceviche, Chef Ramirez plays around with Peruvian tiradito, thin-sliced, marinated fish that comes in the form of raw red snapper, and is served with creamy persimmon fruit, ginger, and poppy seeds—all layered prettily on a plate, along with a spoon for catching every drop of the tasty sauce. 


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