Feasting is our column dedicated to cooking, grilling, eating and discovering what’s on the menu across America and the world.
Anyone who’s super into the restaurant world right now will tell you Peru is currently one of the most exciting places to eat on earth. Especially in the country’s capital of Lima, some of the most innovative chefs in the world are putting their restaurants on the map right next to the culinary heavyweights. So can imagine how excited we were when Chef Erik Ramirez, formerly of Eleven Madison Park, took the reigns at Williamsburg, Brooklyn newcomer Llama Inn.
Inspired by childhood summers spent in Lima, years of classic French training and the seasonality of New York ingredients, Ramirez’s menu is inspired by the culinary melting pot that is each city. You’ll find traditional ceviches next to not-so-traditional ingredients like the burrata that beautifully compliments a purple potato salad. The kitchen’s Japanese grill turns out a number of antiuchos, skewers filled with things like octopus and beef heart. And you can’t leave without having a cocktail from the restaurant’s killer bar, helmed by beverage directors Lynnette Marrero and Jessica Gonzalez. We chatted with Chef Ramirez to learn more about what’s cooking in the Llama Inn kitchen and where he likes to eat after hours.
You grew up in New Jersey but have Peruvian roots. What are some of your favorite, earliest memories of eating in Lima?
Every summer, we used to visit my grandmother in Lima in a district called San Borja. She was an amazing cook, but the first thing I always wanted to eat when I got to her house was salchipapas from this lady with a food cart right down the street from her house. Salchipapas are a mixture of hotdog and French fries served with a few different sauces – it’s Peruvian street food. There was always a line but it was worth the wait and super cheap, like 3 soles, which is not even a dollar. She served the fries and hot dog over shredded lettuce and doused it with salsa gulf, which is mayo and ketchup mixed together, and aji verde, a spicy green sauce. My mom always told me not to eat there because I was going to get sick, but I couldn’t resist.
Before opening Llama Inn, you worked in Manhattan kitchens like Raymi and Eleven Madison Park. How has the fine dining environment inspired your take on the Peruvian food at Llama?
It gave me a different perspective and approach to cooking. It helped me elevate it.
The menu is built for sharing with both small plates and some large format options for two. Is this the way it’s done in Lima, or would you say sharing culture is more of a New York thing at the moment?
For me, it’s the best way to eat because I’d rather share my enjoyment for/of food than keep it all to myself. It’s how it’s done in Peru and a lot of other places – it’s all about family and friends, and we always share. Peruvian people are very proud of their cuisine and they always want people to know how delicious it is, so we share.
You also have a Japanese grill in the kitchen, used to make the anticucho skewers. What made you want to incorporate this element?
It’s the best way to grill right now because it imparts great flavor. We use very special charcoal, which has a lot benefits to it.
After the kitchen has closed, what are some of your favorite neighborhood places to grab a late-night bite or cocktail?
For late-night bites, Zona Rosa, St. Anselm, Tacos Morelos, Brooklyn Star, Commodore, Ramen Yebisu, Williamsburg Pizza, Hana Foods and Lilia if they’re still open. For cocktails, Donna, The Richardson, Dram, Night of Joy, Hotel Delmano, Pete’s Candy Store, Maison Premiere and Lilia.
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