50 Withers Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Cuisine: Peruvian, Bars
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ Great
Cards: All Major
Hours: Mon-Fri 5pm-10pm, Sat & Sun 11am – 10pm
Booze: Full Bar
Subway: L to Lorimer, G to Metropolitan
Grub Street says:
The food at the colorful 65-seat restaurant, then, is meant to capture the varied influences and flavors of Peruvian cuisine: There’s fluke ceviche, but it’s made with plantain and dashi, and anticuchos. Along with a traditional-sounding beef-heart, there will be char siu pork belly and chicken thigh with fermented soybeans and ají verde. There will also be a couple of family-style dishes, including lomo saltado, the famous Chifa or Chinese-Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef, served with scallion pancakes.
Ramirez wants this to be a casual restaurant, and he’s excited about the drinks, too. Jessica Gonzalez, formerly head bartender at the NoMad, and Lynnette Marrero, co-founder of Speed Rack, are taking a similar approach to the cocktail menu. Chicha morada and pisco are in the sangria-like Llama Del Rey, and their pisco sour, the Flying Purple Pisco, is thickened with purple potato purée. Along with the cocktails, there will be plenty of pisco and sherry, a few beers on draft, and lots of Spanish and South American wines.
It might be a little bit like dining inside a well-appointed terrarium at Llama Inn, a new Peruvian restaurant that opened last night at the nexus of Withers and Meeker in Williamsburg. Three of the restaurant’s four walls are practically made of windows, which makes for excellent people watching from inside and optimal dinner peeping from without. Next spring, they’ll open up their rooftop, too, which’ll give a bird’s eye view of the intersection and a closer inspection of BQE traffic rumbling by above.
Chef Erik Ramirez (a former sous chef at Eleven Madison Park and elsewhere) traveled to Peru to deepen the connection to his Peruvian heritage and find inspiration for the dishes he’s serving here. Anticucho—skewered meats served as street foods—include Beef Heart ($4), very typical of the style, and nobs of succulent Pork Belly ($4). We’re on board for any dish that includes its own chips, as with the Fluke Ceviche ($16) flavored with lime, red onion and cilantro and topped with plantain chips.
Fans of Peruvian rotisserie chicken can opt for a Whole Roasted Chicken ($42) served with fried potatoes and fiery aji sauces. The Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry ($54) looks to feed a small army with hunks of tender beef cooked in soy sauce, red onion and tomato and topped with french fries, with crocks of pickled chilies and peppers, slices of avocado and scallion pancakes served on the side.
The New Yorker says:
The menu rides the waves of the Spanish, French, Amerindian, Chinese, and Japanese influences of the Peruvian melting pot. Anticuchos, the street snack of grilled skewered meats, included, on a recent night, perfect little bites of char-siu pork belly, topped with homemade pork rinds, and a wonderfully firm and fortifying beef heart. Fluke ceviche, with lime and red onion, was bright and assertive; red-snapper tiradito, sliced into thin pieces and topped with unctuous persimmon and lightly crunchy poppy seeds, was elegant, like fruity silk. Flouting the unspoken rule that quinoa is a bummer, Ramirez mixes it with avocado, thick hunks of bacon, caramelized bananas, and banana mayonnaise, resulting in a sort of improbably irresistible banana-bacon pudding.
For those who believe that the cuisine of Peru starts at roast chicken and ends at fried potatoes, Llama Inn has you covered. One of two large-format plates is a gorgeous brined, hickory-smoked, garlic-tinged bird, served chili-spiced skin intact, alongside a mountain of potato wedges roasted to a handsome crisp. The sauces on the side make it a party: a creamy queso-fresco concoction, a rich rocoto-chili crema, and a green aji-pepper sauce for a tiny bit of heat. A spectacular lomo saltado, a stir-fry of tender beef chunks in a thick soy-vinegar glaze, is showered with French fries and drizzled with more rocoto crema. As if that’s not enough (it is), it’s served with avocado, pickled chilis, and scallion pancakes, for making Chinese-Peruvian tacos.
As befits the neighborhood, much attention is paid to the cocktails. The El Chapo doesn’t feel particularly louche, except that it’s basically a goblet of tequila, with a hint of pisco and citrus (“Very spirit forward,” the server offered optimistically); the Flying Purple Pisco, with purple-potato purée and frothed egg whites, is like a tiny lavender-hued soufflé. Pisco buzz aside, maybe the good vibes have something to do with the catwalk of tropical plants ringing the walls of windows high above the seats, or the earthy colors and fibres seemingly sourced from nature. Or maybe it’s the feeling you get from all this lovely food prepared with unpretentious enthusiasm and home-town pride.