NYC diners are a discerning bunch. We understand that the asking price of, say, roasted chicken, has a lot less to do with the cost of poultry, olive oil, and potatoes than it does the realties of rent (which, in Williamsburg, averages around $350 per square foot). What gets us ornery is the slow bleed of other, less tangible aspects of the restaurant experience, the pervasiveness of watered-down drinks, indifferent décor and insouciant service—who wouldn’t rankle at paying a premium for feeding at a trough?
So if you’re inclined to blush at the thought of forking over $40 for chicken, know that, at Llama Inn at least, an unswerving adherence to the hallmarks of hospitality significantly softens the blow. Instead of simply amassing front and back of house staff, the owners have assembled a seriously crack team of designers (Joseph Foglia, of French Louie, El Cortez, Dressler and Egg), weavers (dig the wall-hung Paracas textiles), potters (Jane Herold supplies hand-thrown, wood-fired dishware) and art directors (even the ceramic-tiled, plus-sized bathrooms are a wow; wait for your turn while perusing Lucky Peach, and wash up with pricey Aesop soaps), who’ve strikingly transformed a gas station under the L train into a vibrant, Peruvian hacienda.
A 360-degree bar is a focal point, and for good reason; Speed Rack co-founder, Lynnette Marrero, devised the easy on the pocket drinks program ($6 glasses of sherry, $12 pisco-based cocktails, $50 bottles of wine), and Jessica Gonzalez, formerly head bartender at the NoMad, executes it, assisted by exceptionally cordial servers. When a dining companion questioned the potential saccharine factor of a punch on draft (the Llama Del Rey, made with chicha morada, pisco, rum, red wine, grilled pineapple and pink peppercorn) they returned with generous, fully garnished tastes for everyone at the table.
And that’s all before you get to the marvelously appointed open kitchen—not to mention the chicken—which chef Erik Ramirez (a Lima native and Eleven Madison Park alum) previously perfected at Raymi. Ready for dissection on a round, raised cutting board, it serves as grand finale for a progression of delicate anticucho (savory, skewered tidbits, like beef heart, pork belly and head-on shrimp), inspired salads (black lentils, oyster mushrooms and poached egg, with only a passing reference to kale), and silken, citrus-cooked fish, such as persimmon and poppy seed-glazed sea bream tiradito and yuzu-bright fluke ceviche, sandwiched between rounds of both soft and crisped plantain. That said, the more interesting main course by far is the tenderloin beef; sorely undersold as stir fry, it’s actually a luxurious three-way between scallion pancake-wrapped tacos, pickled chili poutine and Chifa-style steak frites; it’s as resplendently and unreservedly delicious as it is utterly bat-shit crazy.
And once you’ve ordered a frothy Flying Purple Pisco, admired the wall hangings, and lathered up with Aesop, you won’t even think twice about paying $48 for it.
50 Withers Street, Williamsburg