415 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine
(904) 819-1760, llamarestaurant.com
Type of cuisine: Peruvian.
Reservations: Yes, recommended
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday.
Prices: appetizers, $11-$15; entrees, $28-$34; desserts, $10-$11.
When it comes to St. Augustine’s Llama, an intimate Peruvian restaurant, the chef and servers work in tandem to set the table and the stage. Dining at Llama reminds me of watching an episode of my favorite Netflix series, “Chef’s Table.” Owner and chef Marcel Vizcarra is young, ambitious and talented. Add his talent to the attentive, friendly service and pair it with creative plating and dishware, an impeccable attention to detail, plus refined flavors, and dinner becomes a theatrical performance.
Upon being seated, we snacked upon a complimentary bowl of warm, crunchy salted Peruvian corn and fried yucca chips while perusing the menu and sipping our purple chichamosas ($8). Served in a champagne flute, this champagne-filled drink is concocted from purple corn, pineapple, lime and a mix of spices. My husband loved the non-alcoholic version, chicha ($4).
When it comes to Peruvian food, I love ceviche — its simplicity, brightness, and tanginess. Llama offers three varieties. We started with the traditional version ($13). Presentation was a perfect 10! The individual pieces — fresh corvina fish, giant Peruvian corn, sweet potatoes cubes, limo peppers and red onion slivers — form a C shape around the rim of an elevated dish. The lime juice that will marinate and cook the fish is slowly poured tableside into a hollow part of the dish below. Gently push the items into the citrus bath, and enjoy.
The thinly sliced carpaccio-style octopus appetizer ($14) is also a visual and flavorful masterpiece. Its plate is decorated with a pattern of various sized, shiny, purple-hued orbs of Alfonso olive aioli, plus red onion and sweet drop Peruvian peppers.
Seven entrees are offered, and deciding on one is no easy task. I tried the savory quinoa-meets-risotto, quinotto ($33) with seafood: mussels, calamari, shrimp and a massive scallop.
Both my mom and husband opted for the mar y tierra ($34), or surf and turf. The marriage of juicy, seasoned lomo saltado (served medium rare) and plump shrimp is amplified when the two join a bed of tagliatelle pasta. The Amarillo pepper huancaina sauce is creamy, with a hint of spice. Giant wedges of cooked red onion and juicy tomato help complement the richness.
Dessert presentations are also stunning. I had the beet-and-guava tres leches ($10), and my husband ordered the queso helado ($10). The tres leches was served in a small flower pot, complete with edible flower on top. The moist, milk-soaked cake met a layer of cacao “soil” and guava sauce.
The queso helado was an ultra-creamy ice cream topped with a strawberry and pepper jam-like sauce, and quinoa crisps.
The space is small — 10 or so tables and a few bar seats — and entirely indoors. It is a perfect special occasion restaurant, and ideal for groups of four or smaller. The menu changes seasonally, but I’d get a reservation on the books soon because you won’t want to miss any of these items.
For me, Llama is one of Northeast Florida’s best dining destinations.
Caron Streibich is an avid food-lover who will review restaurants every other week in the Life section. Follow her dining adventures at facebook.com/caroneats and #caroneats on Instagram.