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The meal could’ve ended right then and there. Our first course was one of the best dishes we’ve tasted in 2019: scallop ceviche ($22) arrived in a shallow pool of milky, subtly tart leche de tigre with hints of sweetness from the cherimoya (a tropical fruit) and the earthiness of Japanese black sesame. The purple borage petals on top only added to the plate’s allure. As we finished the last bite, my dining companion and I had the same thought: What did we just eat?
We were tasting chef Erik Ramirez’s interpretation of Nikkei cuisine, which combines Peruvian and Japanese flavors. It’s not common in New York—yet—but in the past few years, some of Peru’s top restaurants, such as Maido and Sutorīto Māketto, have been recognized across the world for championing this exciting fusion.
Now, the United States is finally being introduced to this relatively unknown style of cooking. At Llama-San, Ramirez’s follow-up to his popular Llama Inn in Brooklyn, the buzzy room is polished with neutral tones (think blond wood everywhere), with plants dotting the lively bar up front. The understated room and delicate-looking plates allow the food to shine.
While nigiri is a kind of sushi that’s typically made of raw fish atop a bed of rice, this version features an unusual protein: aged duck ($26). While cumbersome to eat, the meat is full of flavor and complements the roasted banana and nasturtium leaf. One surprising combination was a block of soft tofu ($21) topped with delicate baby shrimp and puffed rice, which gives a fun pop in your mouth with each nibble.
Another must-order is the Iberico pork ($36). This entrée-size serving features panko-crusted meat that’s prepared like katsu, with a side of pickled cucumbers and bright-green udon noodles, which taste like they’ve been doused in pesto. It’s a serendipitous union of the rich, tender pork and the toothsome noodles.
While all the dishes are easy to share, you may want to add an order of the rice with octopus, crab, mussels and a jammy egg ($30) to feel fully satisfied. It’s essentially a take on fried rice, finished with soy sauce and dashi.
When we polished off our dessert course of satsuma-orange granita, we felt like we did at the start of our meal: Masterfully executed Nikkei cuisine is what we’ve been craving all along.