Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Traif (Brooklyn, NY)

For any true food fanatic, a trip to New York City necessitates compiling a lengthy to-eat list. Despite varying tastes and budgets, these often lists are often populated by the same handful of names prescribed by the Food Network or Travel Channel: Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, Minnetta Tavern, Shake Shack, Gray's Papaya.

Another restaurant, however, deserves a spot on your NY must-eat list: Traif.

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

Of Hebrew origin, the word "traif" refers to food not in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. For this reason, the restaurant's location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Hasidic and hipster cultures intersect, is both perfect and ironic (perfectly ironic?).

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

In the kitchen is Chef Jason Marcus, who co-owns the restaurant with girlfriend Heather Heuser. Marcus' impressive resume boasts time at both Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park before opening Traif in April 2010. Highbrow cooking without the hefty fine dining price tag? Yes, please. The menu, which changes daily, celebrates the delicious and the forbidden because, let's face it, food is tastier when you're not supposed to eat it.

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

Our table of four--two Jews and two goys-- was greeted with an amuse bouche of miso broth shooters, which instantly zapped our tastebuds' attention with their delightfully and uniquely potent flavor.

Miso amuse bouche @ Traif

Our dinner officially began with the arrival of salt and pepper spicy lobster, sweet potatoes, pineapple and string beans ($15.00). The bite-sized pieces of lobster were creamy on the outside and snappy on the inside-- an overall texture reminiscent of honey walnut shrimp. The pineapple cubes brightened up the mellow flavor of the lobster, but the fruit's trademark tang was kept in check by the butternut squash.

Salt and pepper spicy lobster, sweet potatoes, pineapple, string beans @ Traif

With smoked and braised pork bellies and cheeks as well as kielbasa, the heirloom pork cassoulet ($10.00) boasted enough of the curly-tailed creature to make anyone's bubbe say, "Oy vey!" The porky flavors beautifully soaked into the dish's lentils and came together nicely in a mix of different tastes and textures.

Heirloom pork cassoulet: smoked and braised bellies, cheeks, kielbasa and lentils @ Traif

The duck confit lettuce wraps ($8.00) arrived with shredded duck, cucumber salad and a banana-tamarind sauce to swaddle in soft lettuce leaves. The sauce was sweet but subdued enough to complement rather than overpower the duck's sumptuous flavor.

Duck confit lettuce wraps, cucumber salad, banana tamarind sauce @ Traif

The crispy sweetbreads with purple eggplant, brussel sprouts and fork-mashed Yukons* ($15.00) were a huge hit and favorite of the table. The morsels of sweetbreads were cooked to buttery perfection, practically melting in my mouth. The brussel sprouts were pleasantly crispy and salty, adding a delightful contrast to the sweetness of the sweetbreads. The eggplant added another meaty texture to the dish, while the fork-mashed Yukon potatoes were creamy and added another level of decadence to the exceptional dish.

Crispy sweetbreads, purple eggplant, brussel sprouts, fork-mashed yukons @ Traif

Distinct flavors melded harmoniously in the tender, bite-sized lamb and chorizo meatballs ($8.00). After each bite, the smooth flavor of asiago slowly spread through my whole mouth with a fluid-like ease. I could think of nothing I wanted more than a meatball sub made entirely of these un-kosher goodies.

Lamb and chorizo meatballs, chipotle cream, asiago @ Traif

Our last savory plate was the seared scallops with butternut squash, huckleberries and pumpkin seeds* ($16.00). Given Chef Marcus' time at Le Bernardin, it was no surprise that the scallops were fantastic: perfectly seared on the outside while still moist on the inside. The butternut squash puree was incredibly smooth with a sweetness that complemented the scallops nicely. The pumpkin seeds added a crunch to the dish while the huckleberries added both sweetness and acidity.

Seared scallops, butternut squash, huckleberries, pumpkin seeds @ Traif

For our first dessert, we ordered bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche and coffee ice cream ($6.00), a perfect juxtaposition of things Jewish and forbidden to the Chosen people. Although I like bacon desserts in theory, I usually end up loathing them in actuality. These puffy, doughy morsels, however, were topped with just the right amount of bacon for taste and texture. The side of coffee ice cream made this the sugar addict's breakfast dream. After devouring this plate, we were none too surprised several days later when we heard that New York Magazine had selected the dish as one of its favorite desserts in its Where to Eat 2011 issue.

Bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche, coffee ice cream @ Traif

With whole cranberries and hints of ginger topped with a crumbly crust and passion fruit ice cream, our second dessert was cobbler perfection ($6.00). The tastes, textures and temperatures combined to create something so wonderful that we nearly requested a second order. I am still thinking of this dish and wish that we had gone with our gluttonous instincts.

Cranberry-ginger cobbler, passion fruit ice cream @ Traif

Cranberry-ginger cobbler, passion fruit ice cream @ Traif

All of our dishes were cheeky and inventive and executed remarkably well. We continued to talk about our meal not only for the rest of the night but also for the duration of our trip. We dined at Traif just in time for me to add it to my list of favorite eats in 2010.

229 S. 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 844-9578

Traif on Urbanspoon

*Adam M., food writer for the Hastings High School Buzzer (and brother of J!), contributed to this post.


  1. i was drooling throughout this post not realizing this was the place you got those bacon donuts you tweeted and then bam there they were I almost fell over they look so good! this is def on my must eat list now, now to plan a trip to NY :)

  2. Three of my favorite things: bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche and coffee ice cream!!! Can't wait to see where else you dined in NYC.

  3. @LetMeEatCake Hahaha. They were so good!

    @WeezerMonkey This place is a must-try!

    @Gastronomer 'Tis a fabulous combination. I'm looking forward to blogging the rest soon :)