In his review this week, Pete Wells praised almost everything about Botequim, a Brazilian restaurant located in the basement of The Hyatt Union Square hotel. Actually, it was the location the critic believed to be the establishment’s weakest feature, though he warmly praised the food.
There are two ways to get down to the below-street-level restaurant, and as Wells puts it, “The first is weird… The second is weirder… Once you make it inside, though, things quickly start to look up.” He enjoys the ethnic feel of the décor and ambiance, and quickly maps out a meal comprising his favorite dishes on the menu. He tells his readers what to starts with (“have a few globes of pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese puffs that are something like gougères crossed with mocha… Or with a plate of pasteizinhos … It’s terrific stuff”) before calling out the best entrées, which “make it obvious, if it wasn’t already, that Botequim’s kitchen cooks with far more finesse than the remaining restaurants of Manhattan’s Little Brazil or the outposts of those all-the-grilled-meat-you-can-eat chains that turn up every few years and are never as much fun as they sound.” The mains are so good, according to the critic, that he admits to having flashbacks of his experiences with them: “Botequim’s cube of suckling pig plays a recurring role in one of my hungry daydreams, in which I break the thin roof of crackling skin into chips to scoop up swirls of lime-brightened pork, soft enough to serve as a dip. In other idle moments between meals, I flash back to the short rib… And when I imagine feijoada, it looks the way it did my first night at Botequim, when it was loaded with smoked pork and sausages and the black beans tasted as if they, too, were on the verge of turning into meat.”
The desserts don’t quite follow suit with the rest of the menu, as although Wells found the tres leches cake to be excellent, the other selections — along with the coffee — didn’t quite make the mark. According to Wells, “Sonhos, the doughnut holes whose name means 'dreams' in Portuguese, had an undreamlike heaviness… the rice pudding, which was allegedly made with bananas and passion fruit, tasted like stewed onions. And my coffee, which seemed like a sure thing in a Brazilian restaurant, was awful.” He’s quick to point out, however, that “weak coffee and iffy desserts can be fixed,” and once again brings the reader’s attention back to his befuddlement regarding the restaurant’s location. Because, to Wells, “Botequim has Brazilian food, under the direction of the chef Marco Moreira, that is too good to be trapped in a basement.”