Since its genesis almost two years ago, Llama Restaurant has become a gem of the St. Augustine culinary scene. The building itself is unadorned – the kind your eye might slide over as you speed down Anastasia Boulevard. But as with most things, appearances can be deceiving. Because what Chef Marcel Vizcarra and his team are doing inside with Peruvian cuisine is nothing short of spectacular.
When you walk through Llama’s door, it’s easy to be surprised at the size of the space. It’s small, only 20 or 25 chairs and a bar at the far end. But the size matches the experience – intimate, familiar, and purposeful. If you’re not sure exactly what I mean, the way Chef Marcel presented his dishes to us might explain it better than I could.
The first dish he brought out is one of the most popular and with good reason. The Ceviche Lima is beautiful in its simplicity, the ingredients perched on the edge of a wide-brimmed bowl. It represents Lima, the capital of Chef Marcel’s native Peru, which is itself situated on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sea. The ceviche is made up of fresh Corvina, Andean corns, sweet potato, and Limo peppers, with a Leche de Tigre poured tableside. This is the Peruvian coast.
Next to the table was Papas, a delicate little appetizer of the Peruvian mountains. Hard-boiled eggs sit atop natural potatoes, Alfonso olives, and Huancaína cream. The cream – a sauce of Amarillo pepper and queso fresco – gets its name from a city in the Peruvian highlands and adds just a little spice and a lot of flavor to an already delicious dish.
Straight from the Peruvian jungle, next on our plates were Pacu Ribs. Pacu is a fish, whose ribs Chef Marcel has cooked until they’re crispy and served with squash puree and Lulo fruit gel. You might never have tried fish ribs before, but trust us, it’s savory, sweet, and unforgettable as an entree.
Last (but never least), dessert was possibly the most intimate of the dishes. The Chocolate Mousse and Eucalyptus is Quillabamba Cacao, spiced chocolate sauce, and Lucuma fruit. “Sacred Valley eucalyptus,” Chef Marcel told us, “is so abundant that the people will just burn it, so the smell of burning eucalyptus is something I’ll always remember.” In order to evoke that experience, a small bowl of eucalyptus and reindeer moss is set alight tableside. The smell is earthy, warm, and somehow familiar as you taste the rich chocolate and are transported.
The menu at Llama takes you on a tour of the rich beauty and thriving tradition of Peru. Chef Marcel has poured his heart and his heritage into each dish and invited guests to take part in the vibrant culture. From presentation to palate, the experience is unlike any other.
Every piece of the menu is intentional and intimate. Every ingredient is personal and precise. It all comes together so that every time you pick up your fork, you’re being introduced to the unbridled authenticity of the chef’s beloved culture.
Llama Restaurant is located at 415 Anastasia Boulevard. Visit them online at www.llamarestaurant.com.
Photography by Brian Miller.