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