Llama-San Brings Nikkei Cuisine to New York City

"Upbeat, modern and cool, Llama Inn pays respect to all styles of Peruvian cooking, but with the technical flair of chef Erik Ramirez who has trained in New York’s top restaurants. The result is a fresh, fun and spontaneous cuisine that aims to elevate Peruvian food," inspectors say of the Bib Gourmand-designated restaurant. But with Ramirez and partner Juan Correa's latest project, Llama-San, they plan to take Peruvian cuisine even further with a focus on Nikkei cuisine that reflects the influence of Japanese immigrants on Peruvian gastronomy. Comparing Llama-San to the duo's Williamsburg darling, "It's a little more elevated, a little more controlled. It's not as chaotic as Llama Inn," Ramirez says.

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The New York restaurant scene has been anxiously awaiting for this restaurant from Ramirez and Correa, which opened to the public on September 5. "We were in the midst of opening Llamita [last year when] the opportunity arose," Ramirez says. "We would have liked to wait a little bit more, but the opportunity was there so we just went for it." Renovations in the old Tertulia space in Greenwich Village were well underway and they were set to open last year, but a fire put a stop to that and forced them to change course a bit. One result is that they got rid of the wood-burning grill that was part of the original kitchen setup, so they consequently had to rework a few of the menu items supposed to come off the grill. The much postponed opening also meant the owners had to hire a new staff. Nonetheless, Ramirez says that he's "really excited. It's been a long journey for my partner and I." In the few days that they've been in service thus far, he says, "Overall, it's gone pretty well for an opening."

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Aged duck breast nigiri, cilantro, banana, nasturtium.

"Nikkei hasn't really been done in the United States," Ramirez shares as to why he chose to focus on it at Llama-San. With the restaurant, he hopes "to raise more awareness of the culture and the cuisine—to push forward Peruvian gastronomy." He continues, "It's two cuisines that New Yorkers love: they love Japanese food and they love Latin food. It was the perfect opportunity and a good combination that we thought New Yorkers would really enjoy." On the current menu, that fusion translates into Japanese eggplant with pine nut, huacatay (Peruvian black mint), fresh cheese and grapes (pictured at the top of the page); octopus, crab, mussels, egg, rice, dashi and soy; aged duck breast nigiri, cilantro, banana and nasturtium; and Ibérico pork tonkatsu with udon verde. There is also a selection of ceviches on offer that have been pretty popular with customers so far, such as a scallop version with chirimoya, avocado and sesame.

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Flaming Creatures: cacao-infused Japanese whiskey, sweet miso, palo santo smoke.

"The cocktails are pretty unique too," Ramirez says. Heading up the beverage program is Lynnette Marrero, who also oversees the drinks at Ramirez and Correa's other two restaurants. Marrero's cocktails mimic the food in their interplay of Japanese and Latin flavors. Examples include Harajuku is Dead (milk punch, Japanese gin, butterfly pea, verjus), Flaming Creatures (cacao-infused Japanese whiskey, sweet miso, palo santo smoke), and La Mala Muerte (Singani, Bitter Bianco, nori, sake, vermouth). There are also Japanese craft beers and coastal region wines on offer.

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Tofu, shrimp, aji amarillo, potato, jasmine rice.

Based on the response thus far, "If we open the floodgates, we're going to be extremely busy, so we're just trying to build to that point. The staff is ready." In addition to introducing New Yorkers to Nikkei cuisine, Llama-San also serves as a conduit for Ramirez to honor his Nikkei grandmother and "learn more of the culture and the history behind it through the food." But the ultimate goal? "We're trying to go for a MICHELIN star."

Photos by Matt Taylor Gross.

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