Many years ago we had a Brazilian baby sitter who was always fascinated by the profusion of ingredients — Mexican chiles, Japanese fish bouillon, Lebanese tahini paste — in our kitchen cupboard.
“I’m going to make you some Brazilian food,” she often promised. “There is a dish that I know you’ve never had before. You’ll love it!”
The day finally came when we got the invitation, and we bundled up the kids and headed over to her apartment wondering what tasty rainforest rarities lay in store. She and her husband welcomed us warmly, opened the bottle of wine we brought and presented glasses with great fanfare.
“Ready to eat?” she asked. She peeled the foil from a large casserole dish, ripped open a nearby bag of Ruffles potato chips and began crushing handfuls over the top. Here was Brazilian chicken stroganoff, mild and ultra-creamy; very tasty but it looked like something from the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
I’ve never been to Brazil, but I’ve since eaten enough of that country’s cuisine at friends’ houses and in restaurants to learn there are two sides to it. On the one hand, it’s a striking melange of native, European and African foodways, its exotic pantry filled with palm oil, cassava root, passion fruit and yucca.
But then there’s this: Brazilians really love soft, creamy food. Some typical preparations taste like they came from a Continental restaurant of yore, others seem more like Midwestern hot dish. Yet many also possess a kind of shimmery, caressing quality that seems typically Brazilian — like a standard tune played by a bossa nova band.
Keep all this in mind when you try out Botekim Brazilian Bistro, a sweet surprise in east Cobb County’s burgeoning Little Brazil. Unlike the nearby buffets and lunch counters that cater to the immigrant community, Botekim proposes a more upmarket experience for Brazilians and curious non-natives alike. A full bar, pretty table settings and cosseting service from uniformed waiters set the tone for the gentle indulgence of the cooking.
Owner-chef Alex DeGrossi (a veteran of Bistro Niko and Market in the W Hotel Buckhead) brings fine-dining flourish to his cooking. Every table should start with his bolinho de aipim com carne ($7), a stack of crispy, golf-ball yucca fritters festooned with wisps of greenery. Cut them open, and a tender ground beef filling spills out into the sweet-spicy malagueta pepper sauce painted on the plate. The subtle flavors dance to a swaying samba on your tongue.
Also excellent: a bowl of caldo verde ($4) — rich, creamy-chunky potato soup shot through with collard greens and chunks of linguiça sausage. Have a bowl of this at lunch with a watercress salad ($6) in red wine vinaigrette with candied pecans and you’ll leave a happy gaucho.
I am less taken with an appetizer portion of linguiça sausage ($7) sliced and popped over rounds of cottony bread with caramelized onions.
Botekim has that “nice restaurant” vibe that would have so pleased my parents. The waiters say things like “I’ve got some fresh bread heating in the oven for you,” and they smile and twist the plates so they’re positioned perfectly before you.
I like my grilled pork loin ($16), two thick medallions served with emerald collard greens and plugs of roast banana tossed in nutty toasted manioc flour. It is plain and easygoing. I also like the picanha (rump cap of beef, $21), served sliced and rosy red with a pile of shoestring fries. Good ingredients, no fuss.
But I hear that soft Brazilian music in a fillet of fresh flounder ($14) served in a belle meunière sauce of brown butter, mushrooms, shrimp and hearts of palm. The sauce is thick and luxurious, and you can’t help but spoon it over the accompanying mashed potatoes.
The food here wants a good glass of wine, and Botekim delivers. All wines are available by the glass, half-bottle carafe or bottle and are priced in a simplified three-tier price structure. How nice to share a carafe of the dark, jammy Quinta do Portal Colheita Douro ($18) with a friend. There are some good values here, including the Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier ($36 a bottle) and the Domaine de la Fruitière Muscadet de Sevre et Maine ($18 a bottle). I’m a bit less interested in the extremely sweet caipirinha cocktail ($7).
Some tropical ingredients do surface on the menu here and there. Passion fruit sauces a fillet of salmon and provides tart piquancy to a lovely mousse ($7) for dessert. But I’d love to see DeGrossi nod to the distinctive cuisine of Bahia in the northeast of Brazil somewhere on this menu. I’d bet he makes a mean vatapa, the famous shrimp stew prepared with coconut milk and palm oil.
DeGrossi makes his own carne seca, air-dried beef, to lavish over mashed potatoes for a kind of shepherd’s pie. It also shows up in a tasty lunch sandwich ($9.50) with a cap of melted Swiss cheese.
But carne seca is also a key ingredient in feijoada — a black bean stew that is Brazil’s national dish and the centerpiece of a full meal featuring rice, sautéed collard greens, toasted manioc flour and fresh oranges. DeGrossi makes feijoada as an occasional special, but it’s surely something that more of us non-Brazilians would find destination-worthy were it on the standing menu. I can’t wait to try it here.BOTEKIM BRAZILIAN BISTRO 1410 Terrell Mill Road S.E., Marietta; 678-402-7584 Food: Soft, easygoing food with a hint of the tropics. Service: excellent and very caring Best dishes: flounder with belle meunière sauce, passion fruit mousse, yucca fritters with ground beef Vegetarian selections: salads and sides Credit cards: all major Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays Children: Fine, and they’ll likely enjoy the food. Parking: in attached lot Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: full Smoking: no Noise level: moderate Patio: yes Takeout: yes