Monday Miam-Miam: A Slice of Peru and Post-Hurricane Matthew in Saint Augustine

Most people who visit historic Saint Augustine, Florida eat in one of the many restaurants in the compact downtown. Only the beautiful Bridge of Lions separates the old city from the rest of Saint Augustine, and yet this fairly short and walkable distance seems to stand between tourists and locals. This is why eating at Llama feels like entering local residents’ dining room.

I had my first taste at Peruvian food with Limon, which has three locations in San Francisco and Fresno, and immediately decided that Peruvian food was one of the most flavorful and unique in the world.

Like Limon, Llama was born from a family initiative. Unlike Limon it remains small with only one location. Which is charming from the second you park and catch a glimpse of the tiny backyard where herbs grow, of the painted murals, and the galvanized tubs filled with seasonal plants, all set steps away from the adorable and comfortable restrooms located in an adjacent small building.

Upon entrance a lovely bar, lit by low suspensions, faces the guests.

Courtesy Tripadvisor

Small means also intimate. And it’s clear that Llama had the comfort of their guests in mind when they decorated. The mix between Peruvian art and the modern feel of wood, aged bronze, and lighting provides a warm, clean, simple setting. I like the presence of llamas depicted through paintings and photographs displayed throughout the restaurant and even restrooms.

Courtesy Tripadvisor

I often draw inspiration from restaurants when I look for lighting, space, china, glassware, and silverware ideas for my own home. At Llama, I especially love the rustic yet elegant china. Asheville restaurants impressed me with their plates and bowls imported from local pottery studios. But Llama sets the bar even higher with stunning slabs of thick slate, dish lined in pale-blue or green, or still wooden slabs used to serve the appetizers.

Most wines on the wine list come from Spain and Argentina and glasses are priced below average. The list of non-alcoholic cocktails is longer than average and the Chicha, made of homemade purple corn, pineapple, spices and key lime punch, is a must according to my daughter’s boyfriend. She chose a litchee flavored Mimosa and enjoyed it to the last sip, something unusual for a young woman who drinks very occasionally.

My daughter’s mimosa

A glance at the menu will make any mouth water. Anyone spotting a dish brought to a nearby table will want to have the same. Our table of four spends a considerable amount of time debating over the choice of appetizers we would share, based on everyone’s favorite entrée.

Can I have one more minute to decide, please?

We ended up opting for the Causas Trio, which offers three chilled golden potato cakes seasoned and marinated. Each of the potato is stuffed with a mix of chicken and avocado, shrimp and avocado or octopus with avocado. Even the potatoes are small this is very easy to split them in half so everyone at the table can have a taste. This is a very unique and delicious appetizer, also served beautifully.

We also ordered Choros, which are chilled mussels served in their shells with leche de Tigre, Chalaca salad and Andean corn. They can be eaten like oysters, basically swallowed from their shell like a shot. None of us had ever eaten mussels prepared this way, despite the fact that we are all lovers of international food.

When our appetizers arrived we all began oohing and aahing

A Trou Normand as we call it in my native France is typically a tiny shot of Calvados (apple-based alcohol) served in the middle of a copious meal in order to cleanse people’s palate and restore their appetite. Even though Trou Normand is a staple from my native Normandy, I loathe Calvados. But I absolutely loved the fruity shot brought to our table after our appetizer at Llama. My family insisted that it was also alcoholic, but I mostly tasted fruit. And the glasses were thumble-sized.

Peruvian Trou Normand

Lovers of ceviche and seafood in general, but also anyone who favors meat will find the menu tantalizing. It took me a while to decide. It happens to me quite often, so I’m always happy when I’m eating with my kids and their boyfriends and girlfriends in addition to my husband. Although waiters and waitresses usually ask me to order first since I’m the oldest and a woman, I always volunteer to go last. Just to give a chance to the battle fighting inside me. But this is an almost impossible task at Llama.

This is what I ended up ordering.

Amazonian arapaima seasoned and wrapped in plantain leaves cooked over hot coals, yucca, plantains, hearts of palm and a passion fruit-cilantro sauce

This is what the rest of the table ate.

Peruvian version of a Spanish Paella, with shrimp, octopus, calamari and scallops

Traditional Ceviche with sweet potatoes, crispy chulpe corn, and giant Andean corn

Sweet tooth Evelyne was on cloud nine when our waitress brought the dessert menu. “One dessert, two spoons, please,” worked well after the sumptuous meal we had just enjoyed.

Passion Fruit Tres Leches of Triple Milk and Passion Fruit Cream Sauce Moist Cake

My daughter and her boyfriend were intrigued by the description that accompanied one of the desserts. The cryptic sentence. “In memory of a very hard beginning” refers to Hurricane Andrew that battered this part of the east coast in October 2016.

Llama had in fact just opened when water rose above the Bridge of Lions and flooded streets and businesses, damaging pretty much everything in its path.

In memory, Alfajores Aftermath is symbolically served in a broken plate.

Traditional Peruvian soft cookies filled with Dulce de Leche and edible blossoms

Food at Llama is authentically Peruvian. The people in the kitchen and behind the counter are immigrants from Peru. Their story is not mine, but I understand where they come from. They built a life from scratch in a new land and brought with them their culture and skills for all of us to enjoy. The hardship they suffered after the hurricane was huge, but they decided to stay and rebuild, from scratch again.

Trying. Failing. Rebounding. That’s this American trait of character that I love most.

If you happen to visit this part of the country and love unique food, cooked and served with unusual attention to detail, don’t hesitate. Llama won’t disappoint you. I promise.

My daughter’s memory collage

The dining room being small and the attention to service being obviously a #1 priority, the staff doesn’t overbook, so reservations are strongly encouraged. My only regret there was to have to pick between too many tempting options.

But this sunset preceding our after-dinner stroll in Saint Augustine compensated.

California and Maine’s sunsets are quite spectacular, but Florida comes close

P.S. For once, the photos but two are not courtesy of Evelyne’s husband but of their daughter #2

Comments

  1. I’ve never eaten Peruvian Evelyne, so it was a pleasure to enjoy your meal with you 🙂

    • Peruvian food is absolutely delicious and this place is particularly amazing. Flavors play a huge role but it’s never overpowering. Really a wonderful experience to share with family and friends.

  2. Peruvian food is some of my favorite! I had it for the first time on the Embarcadero in SF at a place called Del Mar! I neeed to hunt down Limon ASAP. It sounds/looks delish!

  3. This all looks so good, Evelyne. I’ve been to St. Augustine twice but for corporate events with scripted meals and menus. Maybe next time I need to feign a headache and skip out of dinner.

    • I do remember your posts about Saint Augustine and your photos. Great place for doors 🙂
      I get you with corporate dinners. This Llama place is not the kind of place for business. Totally worth a fake headache! Take your wife and daughter with you too:)

  4. You eat like we do. I always want to taste as many things as possible, so we go heavy on appetizers and often light on the main course.

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