Llama Inn has been serving new Brooklyn Peruvian dishes, via first-generation head chef Erik Ramirez, since the start of the year to acclaim. Dinner courses, divvied up into vegetable, fish, meat, and large plates—all presented for easy sharing—have made evening meals marked with exciting combinations of traditional ingredients and modern twists on Ramirez’s South American heritage.
And now, Ramirez launches a new project: Lunch. Made largely of sandwiches—some new, some, he says, he’s been making for years—the full menu is an exciting array of veggie, seafood, meat, and cheese sandwiches, three hearty salads, and a surprising and filling array of smoothies based in South American and Peruvian fruits and berries.
“It’s not traditional Peruvian, but it’s based off of sandwicherias, which serve sandwiches and smoothies in Peru,” Ramirez said yesterday of his menu, inside the oddly light-filled dining room, despite the lingering clouds. “I’m bringing it here to New York,” and it will be the first of its kind.
Each sandwich was presented in portions that could be managed in three bites, mercifully, because there was a lot to work through, and the first one was veggie: Italian style sourdough bread, served open-faced with avocado, roasted mushrooms, jalapeño mayo for a little kick, and topped with arugula. It was a perfect blend of tangy, spicy, and hearty, and the textures came together, disparately and satisfyingly, as one.
Then Ramirez introduced us to the diverse, fruity, and creamy world of the Peruvian smoothie. The first was one made of chirimoya fruit—native to Peru—mixed with yogurt and organic cane sugar. Inside, chirimoya is fleshy and white and stippled with big black seeds. A fellow diner noted it resembled a persimmon, and I did not think she was wrong. It’s hard to get fresh chirimoya here, except in California, so we can get our hands on it in pulp-form, frozen. It was a satisfying, creamy, fruity, mix, and made me regret deeply that healthy, complex smoothies were not the traditional drink of this country.
The next sandwich was a savory charred squid number with scallions, oregano, mayonnaise, organic salt, and red onions tossed in red wine vinegar. Ramirez paired that with a gooseberry, chia seed, and crushed ice smoothie. Never did I know that a gooseberry was so tart, but this smoothie taught me. Combined with ice and chia, it was a mouthful of refreshing.
Then, Ramirez gave us his version of the fried chicken sandwich. He added lime juice, a spicy cilantro sauce—one he called a fond memory—and cilantro. We gobbled it and followed it up with a smoothie made of quinoa, almond milk, and lucuma, a sub-tropical fruit, often used in smoothies and ice cream, Ramirez told us—again, wow.
You might remember the Korean French Dip, i.e., the KFD, but now Ramirez gives us the Peruvian version of the traditional French sandwich. It came with a mildly-sweet dipping sauce, fontina cheese, and an egg (though not on our pint-sized tastes). He paired this one with the smoothie Especial: strawberries, papaya, banana, beepers, carrots, Fuji apples, algarrobina (syrup made from the black carob tree), and soy milk. It was hearty, but still another treat.
Finally, the sandwich de résistance: a three-cheese grilled cheese (including a six-month gruyere), that Ramirez finished with a gooseberry jam, and it did not disappoint. Ramirez, who had been working hard to cook all of this for us—and came out from the kitchen each time to explain ingredients and recipes and solicit feedback—finally sat down to share this last sandwich.
How did we like this one? Ramirez wondered. No one could think of a bad thing to say, and especially this time, because we were in the thick of a powerful midday food coma. Still, self-critically, Ramirez said to himself, “I think I added too much gooseberry jam.” As mentioned, the jam was tart as heck, due to its gooseberry base, but I thought it cut through all that cheese quite nicely.
It was also one of those midday experiences—not dissimilar to a long, boozy lunch—that makes it seem unlikely you’ll be able to doing anything productive afterward. We’d traveled to Peru and back, and eaten all its best sandwiches and fruits. And, very exciting news, it sounds like Ramirez will be taking his genius sandwicheria concept and giving it wings.
“I want to do a sandwich place called the Deli Llama; it will serve sandwiches and smoothies,” he told us, and we all laughed because it was undeniably appealing. His current restaurant offers a lot more than that, but I can tell you that when Deli Llama opens its doors, I’ll be first in line.
Images courtesy of Llama Inn