Any Lima lover could tell you that there’s more to Peruvian food than citrusy ceviche and crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken, though both are dutifully on offer at Llama Inn, a lively terrarium of a restaurant disjointedly set beneath the BQE. Its chef is first-generation Peruvian-American Erik Ramirez who, following a sous stint at Eleven Madison Park, parlayed that heritage into an executive-chef post at high-end ceviche spot, Raymi.
But a graduate course on Peru’s vast cuisine—a dizzying blend of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Andean influences—this isn’t. Rather, this is New Peruvian 101: The pisco punch ($13) is punnily named after singer Lana Del Rey, and the venerable lomo saltado is listed on the menu as the layman-simplified “beef tenderloin stir fry” ($48).
For the latter—a shareable, soy-sauced sauté of beef, tomato and red onion crowned with fatty french fries—Ramirez swaps customary rice for sheer scallion pancakes to wrap taco-style around fixings that include pickled chilies and sliced avocado. It’s a clear crowd-pleaser, like a Peruvian poutine, but the veal-jus-enriched gravy pulls down the pluck of the peppers and the lightness of the crêpes.
Aside from that large-format beef and a whole bird ($40), the bulk of the menu is dominated by snacks and small plates. In a take on tiradito, sashimi-thin slips of red snapper are set in a vibrantly acidic pool of yuzu, ginger and persimmon that’s good enough to drink ($17), but the subpar quality of the fish isn’t worthy of a sauce of that caliber. And though the beef heart ($4) proves to be a spicy, succulent exception, a section of anticucho skewers are marred by aggressively adobo-rubbed shrimp ($4) and disappointingly dry pork belly ($5).
It seems the case for both diners and chefs—when it comes to Peruvian, there’s still plenty to learn.