Restaurant Review: Llama

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by Damon Noisette // photos by Agnes Lopez

In early October, as the devastating Hurricane Matthew tracked up the eastern coast of Florida, the long-term forecast for chef Marcel Vizcarra’s one-week-old Peruvian restaurant, Llama, was dire. As the storm passed by Anastasia Island, two feet of floodwaters from the Matanzas River entered the brand new 28-seat restaurant, causing significant damage to the walls, kitchen and even destroyed a shipment of custom plates.

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Antichuchos

After a few weeks of cleanup, Llama reopened to a heartening response. Residents made it their mission to patronize local establishments, giving a much needed boost to St. Augustine’s economy. The ones who dined at Llama were treated to the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Vizcarra’s vision of his native cuisine in a chic and unpretentious corner spot.

Llama’s dinner menu is divided into appetizers, traditional and seafood dishes. They have a flair for striking presentation and plating. The ceviche ($12) appears with the fresh corvina, Peruvian giant corn, cilantro and Limo peppers all ringing the rim of a large bowl with a vessel of citrus in the center waiting to be poured onto the ceviche. Even more dramatic are the anticuchos (pictured on page 84, $10). Four chargrilled, marinated beef heart skewers sit encased inside a smoke-filled glass container, perched atop a corn cob and slice of potato. When the server removes the glass, it’s supposed to conjure up the aroma of Peruvian street food and it’s quite the show.

For those interested in classic Peruvian fare, there isn’t much better than the ceviche clasico ($24) and the lomo saltado ($23), a hanger steak, sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with fries and rice. Venturing into the seafood section of the menu, the paiche ($26) is an appealing entrée consisting of a plantain leaf-wrapped Amazonian arapaima fish, fried yucca and plantains and a creamy key lime and cilantro sauce. While it can be a bit of a challenge to extract the arapaima from the leaves, the effort is rewarded by a moist and flaky fish.

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Ceviche

Like many small, chef-owned restaurants, Llama is a family affair. Vizcarra’s wife Anna is the manager and her mother is responsible for many of the desserts, like the seasonal cheesecake ($7). For effect, the “alfajores aftermath” ($7), soft and powdery cookies resting on a healthy dollop of dulce de leche comes on one of the plates broken during Hurricane Matthew. The Algarrobina custard ($7), made with sap from the black carob tree, steals the show with its topping of an edible spun sugar creation that looks like a cross between a fishing net and deconstructed cotton candy.

Plan Ahead At just 28 seats, reservations are a must, and can be made via OpenTable or by calling the restaurant. Llama is open for lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday, with brunch available on weekends.

Blink & You’ll Miss It Llama sits at the end of a small building, across the street from the St. Augustine Mellow Mushroom and just a few blocks down from the Bridge of Lions.

Bar for All Beer, wine and a variety of house-made mimosas are available. An imported Inka Kola ($3) or a pitcher of Chicha ($12) are great options for those interested in complex and fruity non-alcoholic beverages.

LLAMA • 415 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine • (904) 819-1760 • llamarestaurant.com