[Pigging by Wilfrid: September 30, 2014]
Marco Moreira is well-established as the chef-proprietor behind that pair of Union Square gems Tocqueville and 15 East. That story goes back to 2000, when the original Tocqueville served fine French-American food in the awkward triangular space which is now 15 East. In 2006, Tocqueville shifted to a swankier space at the 5th Avenue end of the block.
More recently, his One Five Hospitality operation partnered with the new Hyatt Union Square to launch a casual street-level brasserie, Fourth, and just this month, the Brazilian Botequim in the hotel's basement.
As far as I know, this is Moreira's first venture serving the food of his homeland, and right now the menu celebrates both the rodizio tradition, with some luscious looking steaks being charred in the open kitchen, as well casual street food like pastelzinhos and bolinhos. I was there for feiojoada--the tropicalia answer to cassoulet, I suppose: a weighty dish of infinite variation.
Now Botequim doesn't aim at all to be a quiet hotel restaurant. It aims to be lively, and one can hardly complain that it succeeds. There's music; conversations bounce from the hard walls; the caipirinhas are generous; the open kitchen's grills are smoky; and it's very, very dark. It's clubby, and clubby by design.
Was the feijoada good? Yes, it was, but it turned out to be a bit of a puzzle dish. My server had taken my drink order and left me with the menu. "Do you have any questions?" Not yet. By the time a different server came by, pen poised, to take my order, I did have a question. What meats were in the feijoada?
A Brazilian feijoada can include just about anything--fresh and cured pork, offal, even bits of beef, as well as beans in a rich, almost black sauce. "Sausage," said the server. "It's sausage and beans."
That was a little imprecise, so after ordering, I grabbed my original server and asked him the same question. Same answer. But what kind of sausage? "Kielbasa, chorizo, calabrezza." The latter also appears on the menu as an appetizer, grilled with onion. But kielbasa, in a feijoada?
I waited. Someone else brought the food, and inadvertently increased my puzzlement. "Here is your feiojada," he said, setting down a plate comprising two slices of orange, a little pile of farofa (toasted manioc), a little pile of rice, and some fresh herbs. Hmm. "And here is a side of beans," he added, dropping off a steaming bowl of something.
I probed the bowl, which, as you might have guessed, was the feijoada itself, ready for spooning on to the plate of garnishes. And what did I find? Nice chunks of pork, fresh and cured--possibly some bacon (it was very dark), sausage in a minor role (I did find the calabrezza and a piece of chorizo; not so sure about the kielbasa). I also found some pig skin and bones. Now, be clear, this is not a problem. I like my pig parts, and I was excited to conclude there was some trotter in the dish. But why did the guy tell me sausage and beans?
Perhaps some training on the menu still needs to happen--it's early days after all--but I did wonder if the restaurant was just being coy about the offals. I asked the Brazilian maitre d'--who, let it be said, could charm the pants of a statue of Pelé. She explained that there was ham hock in the dish, but that although the traditional rendition features feet and ears, they didn't use them at Botequim.
But what about all these little bones, typical of a pig's foot? I persisted. She told me Marc Moreira was upstairs, and she was going to ask him. (I like the dish, I reminded her.) She came back. Same story. Meantime, I had found one of those little drum shaped bones from the part of the foot called the digit, just above the "toes." Or so I thought; but no, I didn't palm it into my napkin.
Would I like her to ask the chef too? No, no, it's a good dish. I'd recommend it to anyone, and fairly priced at $24 for a lot of food. You can even save $2 and take the vegetarian version with house smoked tofu. I then went ahead and enjoyed a neat rice pudim with banana and passion fruit garnishes.
As I was leaving, I found the maitre d' at the reception desk. "There's still pig's feet in the feijoada," I quipped merrily.
She was standing next to the chef. She introduced me.
So here I am, an adult, standing in the entrance to the restaurant at 11pm, discussing with a very good chef where the hock ends and the foot starts. Around the ankle, we thought. And he is showing me by making chopping motions on his arm. I asked someone close to me what she thought of this story. "Yes," she said, "you're obsessive."
And if you've read this far, you are too. Go eat it. Website here.