Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, the husband-and-wife restaurateurs, have not exactly rushed to expand. After opening the upscale French restaurant Tocqueville in 2000, they waited seven years to move it down the street, so they could launch the Michelin starred sushi den 15 East in its former dining room.
That was it for another six years, until they opened The Fourth, an all-day American brasserie in the new Hyatt Union Square, which landed with a thud. The critics mostly ignored it, and that may have been an act of kindness. Reviewing for the Daily News, Michael Kaminer said the restaurant felt like it belonged in an airport: “everything feels vetted by committee, from office-suite décor to a meek menu with just enough Food Network flourishes to excite out-of-towners.”
Makovitzky later told the Village Voice that the bi-level space was too large. Over the summer, they turned the basement into a month-long Brazilian pop-up called Botequim (Portuguese for pub), which was successful enough to take over the space permanently. Mr. Moreira, the chefly half of the duo, is from Brazil, so it is perhaps a bit surprising that he waited so long to showcase the cuisine of his native land.
Thereis much to admire about Botequim. The strong wine list (unfortunately not online) offers a heavy dose of Portuguese and South American wines not often featured at New York restaurants. (We were pleased with the 2010 Quinta do Carmo: $47.) The menu is modestly priced, with most appetizers $15 or less, and most entrées in the $20s.
Tocqueville, Mr. Moreira’s original restaurant, where he is still Executive Chef, is one of the best and most under-rated fine dining restaurants downtown. Without a doubt, the man can cook. A few of the dishes at Botequim seem phoned in (a $110 rib steak for two; an heirloom tomato salad), but for the most part he avoids the obvious clichés, and the food is of course well executed.
The Grilled Brazilian Sausage ($9; above left) was terrific. Go ahead and skip the Heirloom Tomato Salad ($15; above center), fine for what it is, but you could have it anywhere. The kitchen sent out an order of the Pastelzinhos (normally $12; above right), excellent meat-filled pastries.
Both the entrées were delightful: Black Sea Bass ($28; above left) topped with a hefty prawn in a sauce of tomato, coconut, dende oil, and fresh coriander; and Suckling Pig ($26; above right).
The desserts (both comped) are well worth trying. Sonhos do Brazil ($10; above left) live up to their billing (“Dreams of Brazil”): warm pastries resembling doughnut holes with a trio of dipping sauces. Brigadeiros ($10; above right) are luscious chocolate bonbons, served as a popular candy in Brazil.
The owners of the Hyatt Union Square obviously have broader ambitions than just serving their hotel guests. There are already three Moreira–Makovitzky establishments here (The Fourth, Botequim, and a whisky bar, Singl). Chu Chu, a rooftop sushi bar, is expected next year. That may be more than the market will bear. Not every hotel can be another Standard.
We were recognized, and received the restaurant’s best service, but that probably would have happened anyway, as the restaurant was not at all busy on a Wednesday evening. The space (decked out mostly in dark woods), with striking artwork on the walls, is pleasant and comfortable, but I am not sure whether it will consistently draw a crowd. For now, Moreira’s cuisine makes Botequim well worth a visit.
Botequim (132 Fourth Avenue between 12th & 13th Streets, near Union Sq.)
Food: Brazilian, with an emphasis on roasted meats and fish
Service: Just fine
Ambiance: A sleek subterranean dining room