Llamas are hard to resist. Endearingly goofy and affable, they captivate humans with their big glossy eyes, perky upright ears, shaggy coats and gangly necks. And they hum, for goodness sake.
The Llama’s House, a new South American restaurant at Miromar Outlets in Estero, is giving the quirky creature the rock-star treatment as part of the café’s goal of modernizing traditional Peruvian cuisine. The restaurant’s graphics feature a mohawked llama sporting stylish shades, one eyebrow arched in attitude.
The Llama’s House does indeed exude a contemporary vibe that distinguishes it from other Peruvian restaurants around these parts (they’re not as uncommon as you might think). Located near the main mall entrance off Corkscrew Road, The Llama’s House has an indoor-outdoor bar and a wide, open dining room with wood-like flooring and a wall that’s partly covered in artificial greenery. “Be Llamazing” pops out of the wall in pink neon. Other than that the
The service, too, could use a little more attention. When asked, our server told us there was no beverage menu but then produced one after we’d already ordered a glass of house pinot noir ($5) and a Stella Artois ($4) on happy-hour special. There are non-house wines available, as well as cocktails such as the Peruvian classic Pisco Sour. The server never asked if we wanted another round, either — a missed opportunity for another sale.
re’s not much décor to speak of, but the restaurant has been open less than two months so there may be plans for more furnishings to fill out this largely blank canvas.
When it comes to the food, however, The Llama’s House is in order. Food was prepared and delivered briskly, and garnished and plated with care and creativity. The menu is not as exhaustive as some local Peruvian restaurants, where you might find 10 topping choices for tallarines verdes (pesto spaghetti), but the selections are diverse enough to appeal to a variety of appetites.
Ceviche, for instance, is available in five variations with choice of fish or mixed seafood alone or you can order a sampler of three. We opted for the Llama’s House ceviche ($13.99 fish, $15.99 mixed) marinated in passion fruit juice, a delicious twist on the usual lime juice. The mixed version contained chunks of firm white fish, shrimp and tender squid rings and tentacles, as well as threads of red onion, diced sweet potato and the big-kerneled Peruvian corn called choclo (both fresh and toasted). It all made for a pleasing composition of textures and sweet-sour-spicy flavors — order it extra hot if you want more kick.
Speaking of composition, the trio de causas ($9.99) was a work of art almost too pretty to eat — a remarkable feat considering the main ingredient is chilled mashed potatoes. Drizzled with pastel purple sauce and topped with delicate green and purple sprouts, the perfectly round, golden yellow potato cakes each were layered with a different filling — tuna salad, shrimp salad and chicken salad. Peruvians like their potatoes and their mayonnaise, and this plate could be a meal unto itself or a mild companion to a spicy ceviche.
Peruvian cuisine reflects a diverse pedigree, including Spanish, African, Chinese and Italian contributions. That fusion is represented in The Llama’s House’s tostones “bruschetta” ($7.99). The flattened, double-fried green plantains were topped with a garlicky salsa of tomatoes, avocadoes and basil pulled together by olive oil. The tostones were a tad oily, as they tend to be, but they crunched satisfyingly and the salsa added a lot of pizzazz.
For the main course, choices include burgers and grilled chicken for those who want to stay in their comfort zone, a deep-fried whole red snapper for seafood lovers and a handful of Peruvian mainstays like lomo saltado. Vegetarians can opt for salads or palta rellena — avocados stuffed with vegetables.
Chaufa ($15.99) speaks to the country’s Cantonese influences. Basically, it’s a big platter of fried rice seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil and laced with fried egg bits, red peppers, scallions and your choice of meat (unless you order the vegan version). It was salty and could have had a bit more chicken, but in terms of simple comfort food it hit the spot.
Similarly, the Peruvian dish tacutacu is a homey dish usually made with leftover rice and beans. They’re mixed together into a patty and then fried in a skillet until a crisp crust develops. Here, they use creamy canary beans and offer the dish as a side, which I chose with my churrasco ($16.99) along with another side of black beans. The skirt steak was perfectly grilled — nicely browned but still red inside. Skirt steak can easily come out tough, but this was tender and juicy, and slathered with garlicky, zesty chimichurri sauce that complemented the deep beef flavor.
We hardly needed dessert after so much starchy food but still managed to polish off a good wedge of creamy flan ($5.99). Like llamas, flan is hard to resist. The Llama’s House may first get your attention with its whimsical marketing, but it seems likely that its updated approach to South American food is what will to get you to come back.