Peruvian cuisine at its finest
By Jeffrey Spear | Photos by laird
Growing demand for newfound flavors and international cuisines are influencing the nature of restaurants throughout Northeast Florida. As detailed in the July/August issue of Arbus, Jacksonville has an incredibly diverse population, giving rise to a wide range of ethnically inspired restaurants that cater to these preferences. Of course, this trend is well established and growing just about everywhere you look, including in St. Augustine.
Although there isn’t much of a Peruvian population to speak of, no more than 1,500 in the Jacksonville area and only 100 in St. Augustine, there’s a Peruvian restaurant just across the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Boulevard that will knock your socks off. While the cuisine itself embraces Peruvian fruits, vegetables, and spices that are altogether different, and learning about these ingredients is part of the unique experience that Llama offers, it’s not what’s in their pantry that blows you away. What’s truly amazing is the way that chef and owner Marcel Vizcarra crafts every item on the menu, captures your attention with undeniable creativity, and delivers an astounding sensory experience with every dish.
Our visit started off with one of their signature cocktails, the Flower Bomb, a mimosa made with prosecco, elderflower syrup, and rose essence (sprayed over the cocktail using an atomizer) that’s kept nicely chilled by a sphere of ice with an entombed orchid flower. How cool is this? We also sampled the Chichamosa, another mimosa made with prosecco, purple corn reduction, pineapple, lime, and spices. Yes, purple corn is a thing in Peru. While we were only getting started, the anticipation of our next course was palpable.
When it comes to appetizers, the Anticuchos (marinated and chargrilled beef hearts, Andean corn, and golden potatoes served with panca pepper-scallion aioli) is not to be missed. There’s no denying this dish is artfully plated. That being said, it’s the theatrical presentation that’s not to be missed (spoiler alert—smoke is involved). The same goes for the Ceviche Lima (fresh corvina marinated with lime juice, cilantro, and limo peppers served with Peruvian giant corn and glazed sweet potatoes). And if you’re willing to try octopus, the Pulpo (tender octopus carpaccio, red onions, key lime, drizzled with Alfonso olives aioli, and garnished with sweet drop Peruvian peppers) is beautifully plated and wonderfully flavorful.
Based on our experience with drinks and appetizers, we were adequately primed and ready to see what our main dish held in store. Since we had ordered the Cordero Cusqueño (roasted Lamb, golden potato, Andean salad, garlic double cream, and Aji verde), it was clear that we were going to need a red wine that would complement this undeniably flavorful dish. While several options including a 2013 Flechas de los Andes Gran Corte from Argentina, a 2018 Condado de Haza Crianza from Spain, and a 2017 Bodegas Tridente Castilla y Leon Tempranillo from Spain were sampled, and all were easily drinkable, the latter Tempranillo met the challenge with greatest aplomb.
Once the wine was poured, and at the moment the lamb arrived, there were audible gasps at our table. Beautifully plated, exquisitely prepared, and … well… delicious is not saying enough. Other dishes not to be missed are the Paiche (Amazonian arapaima magically seasoned and wrapped in plantain leaves cooked over hot coals, yucca, plantains, hearts of palm, and a passion fruit-cilantro sauce) and the Mar y Terra (lomo saltado with shrimp over tagliatelle pasta tossed in an Amarillo pepper Huancaina cream sauce).
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. Based on Chef Vizcarra’s suggestion, we enjoyed the Sacred Valley (a chocolate mousse creation that’s described as Quillabamba Cacao, lucuma fruit puree, Urubamba eucalyptus) accompanied by smoking eucalyptus leaves—a reminder of the scent you would experience in the Peruvian jungles where the cocoa beans are found. If you had any doubt, dessert was just as exotic and theatrical as everything else we sampled. Our meal ended as happily as it started.
A visit to Llama is an immersive fine dining experience. It is unique, memorable, educational, and ties in nicely with Chef Vizcarra’s vision. He explains, “Each of our dishes is meticulously crafted, offers surprising flavor combinations, and provides a sampling of the rich culture and history of Peru. When our guests leave, we want them to feel they have a better understanding of Peru, learned something new, expanded their culinary experience, and are eager to return.” This is certainly the outcome we experienced and can happily pass along to you.
It’s important to mention that Llama is a small and intimate space with a limited number of tables. Accordingly, reservations are essential and, based on this restaurant’s growing popularity, should be made well in advance.
Llama Restaurant, 415 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine, (904) 819-1760, llamarestaurant.com.
See the recipe for Llama’s Cordero Cusqueño here.
Pair it with: 2018 Condado de Haza Crianza
Grapes: 100% Tempranillo
Description: Red with purple hues, plum and spices in the nose. High acidity and high tannins. Black ripe fruits, flowers, and a hint of smoke on the palate with licorice aromas present on the aftertaste.
One of Spain’s first château-style wineries, with all of its vineyards surrounding the winery, Condado de Haza focuses on sustainable farming practices with a special emphasis on preserving the regional biodiversity.
Lying in the coldest region of the four estates, Condado de Haza is the last winery of the Familia Fernandez Rivera to begin harvest. Each of the vineyard blocks are manually harvested towards the beginning of October and are vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation takes place between 6-10 days at an average temperature of 20-25°C. All grapes, juice and wine are moved 100% by gravity and the finished wine is aged for 18 months in American oak barrels and 6 months in the bottle before releasing to the market.
Condado de Haza is committed exclusively to Tempranillo made from the estate-owned vineyards that produce bold wines with amazing complexity and class. The wines of the estate are a great value from Ribera del Duero and the culmination of the Fernández family’s commitment to producing exceptional and unique Tempranillo wines.