First of all, I promise I'm not going to mention "The Girl from Ipanema." Whoops! Well, honestly, that song does express my personal stereotype of Brazilians: They are the hottest people on the planet.
Reports are conflicting about their actual erotic behavior, but at least one survey has concluded Brazilians have more sex than just about any other nationality and that they are quite experimental, the Pope notwithstanding.
What does this have to do with food? I think it's fair to say that any culture suffused with hedonism tends to produce a sensual cuisine. Brazilian food strikes me as voluptuous. It's also diverse — the country is huge — but chefs in the big cities there have been playing in recent years with traditional regional dishes, tweaking ingredients through substitution and general novelty.
Botekim Brazilian Bistro (1410 Terrell Mill Road, Marietta, 678-402-7584), located in the area's burgeoning Brazilian community, seems to represent this trend. That's almost certainly because the owner/chef is Rio-native Alex DeGrossi, whose résumé includes stints at Bistro Niko, Luckie Food Lounge and Market in the W Hotel. Ian Winslade, one of the city's most creative chefs, consulted on the menu. Still, the menu is predominantly Brazilian comfort food, but you'll find everything from Italian notes to brazen cheeseburgers.
Occupying a former chain-restaurant building, Botekim is sparely decorated. Yellow walls display some art, including a strange chalkboard-like rendering of the gigantic Art Deco statue of Christ overlooking Rio. (See, even in the city that hosts Carnival, Jesus reminds you to feel guilty.) There's a bar and a comprehensive wine list. The staff is amiable and helpful. During breaks, DeGrossi wanders the dining room, shaking hands and chatting about his menu.
What's to eat? Six of us went to dinner, so I got a pretty thorough sampling of the menu. The best starter was the simplest: crispy and creamy fried orbs of puréed yucca containing a dollop of ground beef. Drag pieces of the fritters across a sauce of sweet malagueta peppers.
We also liked a generous plate of sliced links of pork sausage with caramelized onions, served with toast points. Ditto for croquettes made with braised beef served with Dijon sauce, although I found the meat a bit pungent. The one appetizer that earned a unanimous "meh" was the day's soup, tomato. We did not order the chicken fingers.
Most every entrée we ordered was delicious. My friend Bobby and I battled over the one lamb shank the kitchen had left and I won. As it turned out, his default choice, the braised short ribs with yucca, was better than my braised lamb shank. The lamb was tender but bland, served with terrific polenta and a "minted pea sauce" that did not impart a single note of mint, adding to the blandness of the dish. Meanwhile, Bobby victoriously devoured the rich beef.
I'm inclined to say the best dish on the table was the homiest — shepherd's pie featuring house-made sun-dried beef and mashed potatoes. I think I've eaten every ethnic variety of shepherd's pie on the planet and this is my new favorite. An entrée that surprised me was sautéed flounder, the day's fish special, coated with meunière sauce with shrimp. This sounded like something I would have ordered at the Coach and Six (R.I.P.) 25 years ago, but my one forkful was a knockout and the preparation is almost certainly an echo of DeGrossi's fine-dining past.
Another entrée definitely worth ordering is the grilled pork loin with bananas roasted and coated in toasted yucca meal. It's served with crunchy collards, which show up on other plates, too.
We tried three desserts — Key lime pie, a caramel-drizzled flan, and a cloud of puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. I have to be honest. I ordered the flan and didn't share a bite. It was the best flan I've eaten in years — not a single air pocket, dense beyond all competition anywhere. My stinginess didn't keep me from sampling the other two desserts. Yawn.
I really like this restaurant, which is also open for lunch. I'm glad it's not a churrascaria and I don't have to deal with gaucho-impersonating servers running around the room with skewers, in danger of eviscerating someone with a misstep. What I was sorry not to see on the menu was feijoada, the famous stew of beans and four or five meats. But — oh happy day — it's available at brunch on weekends.
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