The time for Nikkei cuisine in New York City is now: Tonight, one of the city’s top Peruvian chefs delves into the lesser-seen mash-up cuisine that combines Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and techniques with his new West Village restaurant Llama San.
Chef Erik Ramirez pays homage to his bi-cultural upbringing — his grandmother is Nikkei — through playful dishes at Llama San, such as combining ceviche with ponzu sauce and adding kombu to a traditional seafood soup. For Peruvians visiting Llama San, Ramirez’s third restaurant with business partner Juan Correa, the connection between both cuisines is obvious, he says. But he does let the kitchen get creative.
“The menu is Nikkei — Nikkei through a New York lens,” Ramirez says. “It’s going to be our interpretation of it.”
Take his version of tonkatsu, for instance: At Llama San, he fries breaded Iberico pork and serves it with green udon noodles and pickled cucumbers, a dish that emulates one from his childhood known as tallarines verde con apanado, or Peruvian-style pesto spaghetti with breaded meat. The two cuisines continue to intertwine throughout the menu — a common creamy Peruvian chicken stew known as ají de gallina is wrapped in sushi rice and toasted sesame seeds, then sealed in banana leaves and charred with open fire.
“It’s nothing that I’ve seen before in the Nikkei cuisine,” Ramirez says.
Dishes are priced between $16 and $36, and an 11-course chef’s tasting menu is available for $150. The menu, in full below, is broken up into vegetables, raw fish, cooked seafood, and meats.
Nikkei, a cuisine created by a wave of Japanese immigrants that moved to Peru in the late 1800s, is not as common in NYC because there aren’t many chefs cooking within the genre, Ramirez says. But it’s slowly getting more traction: Now there’s Llama San, the sprawling Sen Sakana in Midtown, and a future restaurant from a celebrated West Coast chef coming this fall.
At Llama San, though, the goal is more about making Peruvian food a part of everyday conversation rather than spawning a Nikkei food trend, Ramirez says. “We want Peruvian cuisine and culture to be considered one of the cuisines that people can eat every day,” he adds.
Beverage director Lynette Marrero oversees the drink program here, as well as at the other Llama restaurants. Wines are coastal and span several regions around the world, while cocktails are made to match the flavors coming out of the kitchen. A riff on an Old Fashioned is made with raw, unrefined Peruvian sugar and Japanese whiskey infused with Peruvian cacao shells.
Llama San is the third restaurant from hit duo Ramirez and Correa, who also run the acclaimed Llama Inn in Williamsburg and West Village sandwich shop Llamita. They planned to debut it last year but a fire set them back — the restaurant was originally going to center on a wood-burning grill that was destroyed in the fire. The menu has since evolved, and the 65-seat space, decorated in light wooden tones and filled with plants, is now open for business.
“We like to say that we want a more grown-up version of Llama Inn,” Ramirez says. “Llama Inn is rowdy, fun, exciting. We still want that same vibe, but a little more grown up.”
Llama San, located at 359 Sixth Avenue, is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily.