The guys behind Llama Inn, the self-proclaimed “culinary destination, urban hacienda,” and “corner barrio bar” — a curious term for a Williamsburg joint that sells $15 cocktails — have opened what I’ll politely call a lifestyle sandwich and smoothie shop in the West Village. Its name is Llamita; patrons pour themselves glasses of mint and lime-infused water while staffers aromatize the space by torching holy palo santo sticks. You know, that sort of place.
The bill of fare, both retail and culinary, is Peruvian-ish: There are roast chicken sandwiches with pineapple and bacon, aji verde-laced beef hearts, copies of Gaston Acurio’s cookbook ($50), trucker hats ($35), chalan hats ($140), hand woven rugs ($320), copies of High Times marijuana magazine, and smoothies that are ideal, according to the website, for cleansing post-spin class (there is a SoulCycle just a few blocks away).
Chef Erik Ramirez, who was raised in northern New Jersey, home to one of the country’s largest Peruvian populations, makes his most popular smoothie with lacuma, a prized South American fruit. When I try to order one, a very chill counter worker informs me that the signature smoothie has been sold out. “We opened at 8:30 a.m., and by 10:30 a.m. we were sold out.”
Not a problem, shall I come back tomorrow? “We won’t have any more until Friday.” It was Tuesday.
Whole lucuma, according to the Internet, boasts flavors that range from maple to caramel to sweet potato to butterscotch; its texture is said to mimic dry egg yolk. I wish I could offer more empirical observations, but the fruit, which grows in the Andes at an altitude of 2,700-3,000 meters, isn’t imported fresh to the states. Moon Juice, an “adaptogenic” well being company, sells it as a powdered sugar substitute; cafes and restaurants like Llamita use the frozen pulp, serving it as ice cream or as a smoothie.
Purported health benefits, even though Llamita doesn’t mention them, are surely a reason that drives some of the lucuma sales; the fruit, like the acai berry, the pomegranate, and the poor avocado, has achieved Goop-worthy superfood status. Lucuma appears on dubious health websites as providing for: diabetes prevention, inflammation reduction, delaying the onset of aging, combatting depression, skin protection from solar radiation, anemia prevention, improving cardiovascular function, and, if taken in the form of oil, expediting the healing of flesh wounds (sort of like the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones).
I generally drink Latin American fruit juices for a simpler reason: They’re delicious. And they’re usually pretty affordable. At my local Bolivian joint, I pay about $11 for a cup of cherimoya (tastes like coconut mixed with lychee) and a hearty saltena. At a Colombian joint near my place, I spend around $17 for a chicken arepa with a tall guava shake. But at Llamita, which lies at the nexus of Peruvian juicing, fast casual dining, absurd Manhattan real estate prices, and that strange capitalistic phenomenon that is performative wellness culture, a sandwich and smoothie can run $30.
Contributing to that price: The credit card payment screen suggests at least a 15 percent tip — even though there’s no real wait service here.
So how was the lucuma? I have no idea! When I returned on Friday the restaurant’s supplier still hadn’t come through.
In its absence, I recommend the strawberry smoothie ($9), though that also sells out. The beverage is spun with milk and camu camu, a tart Amazonian berry known for its absurdly high concentrations of vitamin C. I’ll admit: This drink is smoother, cleaner, and lighter than the more sugary and icy shakes I’m used to. The taste is pure, concentrated summer. It is the perfect foil to a squid sandwich ($16), a saucy mess of plancha-tinged calamari rings dripping with spicy mayo. Peruvian chile peppers, aji panca and aji amarillo, impart the creamy cephalopod with gently smoky overtones.
That’s a 10-minute lunch that will set you back almost as much as the spin class Llamita expects you to take. But I’ll be honest: The squid sandwich and smoothie are both made with a heck of a lot more care than most lousy lobster rolls paired with a beer, a meal that would easily cost $40.
You know where this is going. I’m calling the smoothies and squid sandwich at Llamita a BUY, even if the aspirational branding here is kind of…extra.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).