I was prepared for the legendary generousity of wholesome South American cooking, but tonight, I was completely caught off guard by the remarkable presentation at Botucatu.
The ample bone-in cut of pork was not only well prepared, it was precisely centered on a savory bed of tacu tacu (a tasty mixture of rice, soft black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, onion and olive oil). On top, a glistening tangle of finely chopped collard greens, a perfect vegetable crunchiness, crowned the pork like a laurel. Next to that, a garnish of broad leafed parsley contrasted with some red cabbage that softly exuded the dark magic of cloves or some other similar spice. It's a simple but effective composition without many of the architectural excessives of this age. But foremost, it was a deliciously gratifying dish, especially after a squeeze of lime on the pork and a bit of tweaking with a sour salsa-like sauce of mildly spicy red chilli.
Of course the hearty roots of this dish weren't neglected. The slight wetness of the rice and beans cries to be blended with toasty farofa for a savory sandy texture that I adore -- especially in that crucial first minute before moisture and dryness coalesces.
Botucatu might not serve dishes as ambitious as some of the "classier" places on nearby Tremont Street, but the kitchen demonstrates a surprising level of care in cooking and presentation. The Art of Eating is not restricted to a French tradition.
A similar flair showed off the pudim al leito, a gorgeous flan with a thick, near-cheesecake consistency (just the way I love it). It came with the traditional caramel sauce, but also accessorized tastefully with a sprig of mint, a few blueberries and raspberries, and red and orange squiggles of fruit sauces. It wasn't just vanity, the sauces were there because their fruitty nature complements the milky richness of the pudim. My wish: if only the pudim was more massive.
Prices are amazingly cheap, especially in light of the hearty portions and careful cooking. The pork entree was $9.95 (they could easily get away with something in the high teens if they had white table clothes), and the pudim came to $3.50.
I thought that these guys were Brazilian, and went for a recommended dish with Brazilian hallmarks (collards, farofa). As it turns out, the chef and owner, are Peruvian (I asked later). It makes sense in retrospect (silly me), when the specialty section of the menu is dominated by Peruvian dishes. They might have successfully incorporated a distinctive Brazilian repeitoire into their menu without much doctoring (the dishes even retain their Portugese names -- I was confused with the usage of both "frago" and "pollo" on the same menu), but I'm definitely going after the Peruvian specialities the next time.
I'm grateful to the chowhounds that chipped in with information about this place and encouraged me to try it (link below).
P.S. Octopus lovers take note (this means you, gg), the arroz con pulpo is $8.95 and only on their lunch menu.