Brooklyn, New York – Traif

Restaurant: Traif
Cuisine:
Modern Tapas/International/Eclectic
Last visited:
September 10, 2011
Location:
Brooklyn, NY (Williamsburg)
Address:
229 S 4th St
Nearby subway stops:
Marcy Ave
Price Range: 
$20-30

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5-5.5
Service: 3 (friendly, but just so busy)
Ambiance: 3.5 (lively, but noisy)
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2010
  • Globally inspired tapas
  • Very creative menu
  • Seasonal menu
  • Local favourite
  • Hidden gem
  • Good for sharing
  • Good for groups
  • A bit hipster
  • Very loud/lively atmosphere
  • Wine bar/cocktails
  • Reservations recommended
  • Dinner Tues-Sun 6pm-2am
  • Sat-Sun brunch 11:30am-3:30pm

**Recommendations: Pink Figs or whatever seasonal fruit salad they have with bacon and hazelnuts, Crispy Pork Belly, Baby Back Pork Ribs, and Bacon Doughnuts. Basically anything with pork… order it.

And that is the only signage you’ll see. Right there. On the door. In thin font. On glass. Traif. It’s easily missed, but this style of very discrete signage is so common of many hip and happening restaurants in New York. The city is so bombarded with advertising and signs that a lot of restaurants do the opposite to stand out. As odd as that sounds, it actually works and the place was packed with locals. People will find you if you’re good, so if you miss the signage, you’ll see the crowd waiting to get in.

Traif. The name did nothing for me and I wasn’t even curious to look it up, but when I did, I discovered that it was a Yiddish word meaning “anything that is considered vile and non-kosher in the hebrew faith”. Ahhh, and now it all makes sense! Or did it really? Let me explain.

So there’s a story behind this somewhat of a hidden gem that only opened last year. The owner is actually Jewish… and the restaurant is known for pork. Yup! He opened Traif which specializes in pork and seafood, but his heart is with the oinker. He actually wanted to celebrate the delicious qualities of pork and bacon so even the logo is a pig. Although the rabbis would disapprove, there is a market of “rebellious” Jews and regular diners that relish in the idea and the menu. Like me! But I’m in the “regular diner” category.

I actually found the background quirky and endearing, and even better was that the restaurant delivered beyond its story. I must say I fell in love with it, and I would 100% revisit this restaurant on my next trip back to New York. That’s how much I liked it. I have to really LOVE a restaurant to revisit it because as a food blogger I always like to try new places especially when traveling… but this one had me at pork… and later at belly.

The menu and food was right up my alley. Creative, seasonal and globally inspired modern tapas. It’s pretty much one of my favourite styles of dining and types of cuisine. Not only was the food interesting, but it was well executed and presented with reasonable portions and prices. It has no Michelin Stars, or big fancy awards yet, but it was one of my top meals in New York. It may not have scored with the rabbis, but it scored with me on pretty much every level.

The only thing was that it was incredibly busy, packed, and so loud that you almost had to shout to have a conversation. Thank god (I think it’s appropriate to use “god” in this post), but thank god the food was so good that the only words out of my mouth were “mmmmmm”. No conversation required.

I came at 10pm and there was still a line up, so we opted for the bar, which is actually my favourite spot in a restaurant anyways. That is especially if there’s an open kitchen and I can watch them in action. It’s entertaining for me and the service is probably even better since there’s always someone there. My advice is to go for the bar if you’re 1-2 people, or make an early reservation. My other advice is to put this on your dining list for New York, it’s not to be missed!

On the table:

Caesar – It was pretty spicy and made with Clamato and it wasn’t too tomatoey. It’s also fizzy because it was made with beer. It is quite a bold Caesar, but I’m not huge on beer so I’m biased. It worked in the cocktail though.

Amuse Bouche – Warm Moroccan Lentil Soup

  • I wasn’t expecting an amuse bouche from a place like this, so it was a nice surprise and much appreciated.
  • The first thing I tried and I was already on board! I’d pay for this.
  • It was rich, creamy and thick with the texture of pureed lentils and cream with perhaps some carrots and onions in the background to build flavour.
  • It was savoury with a bit of acidity from tomatoes in the base and it was aromatic with mild spices, but not spicy.
  • The flavour actually reminded me of a beef barley meets a tomato lentil soup, but completely smooth.

**Pink Figs6/6

  • Pink figs, bacon, blue cheese, hazelnuts, greens, sherry-truffle vin $7
  • This would convince non-salad lovers to love salads.
  • This is possibly one of the best salads I’ve had, however I rarely order salads because often I find them too “make at home”. This one sounded creative enough and I also love figs.
  • I think this salad is always on the menu, but the fruit changes since it’s seasonal.
  • It was a super juicy salad. Yes, juicy! It was very well dressed and bursting with dynamic flavours, ingredients and lots of various textures.

  • It was nutty, crispy and crunchy.
  • There were sweet bursts of ripe figs, salty bites of creamy blue cheese, crispy bits of smoky bacon and crunchy toasted hazelnuts.
  • I could smell and taste the accent of the truffle oil and the tangy vinaigrette kept things light.
  • The natural flavours of the good quality ingredients were not masked by the dressing, but just enhanced.
  • The balance of sweet, salty and tangy were incredibly well played and I could taste every ingredient used.
  • It reminded me of an amazing fig salad I’ve had at Gudrun Tasting Room in Richmond, BC – see “Salad A” here.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts 4.5/6
  • Roasted brussels sprouts, grapes, puffed rice, tomatoes, herbs, chile vin $9
  • The chile vin really made this salad (or side vegetable dish) pop.
  • It was tangy and spicy with citrus orange and lemon notes and it was also a bit sweet. It wasn’t hot, but well balanced with perhaps some soy sauce to give it savoury flavour. It was almost like a ponzu sauce meets a spicy vinaigrette.
  • I do wish the brussels sprout leaves had been crispy, but they were still good.
  • The salad was full of bright and fruity flavours and great textures with the crispy puffed rice, crunch of cucumbers, and juicy bursts of sweet grapes which interchanged with tangy explosions of cherry tomatoes.
  • There was also some chopped mint for aromatics and it reminded me of a modern day version of a Greek Salad with some Asian influence.
  • The puffed rice was creative, although I’ve enjoyed it in Shanghainese cuisine, however it was the first time I’ve seen it used in a salad and it was a great idea.
  • Everything was well dressed with tons of flavour, but the chile vin dressing was the highlight for me.
**Crispy Pork Belly6/6
  • Crispy pork belly, cantaloupe, feta, marconas, mint, orange $9
  • Holy crap! Seriously. I’ve had delicious pork belly before, and pork belly is almost always good if it’s done right, and this one was no exception.
  • Not only did the description sound amazing to me, but it delivered beyond what it promised.
  • Do not leave without trying this. It’s the king of their tapas.
This was so good it deserves a picture that’s a bit closer. It just loves the camera.
  • How many ways can you say “mmmmmm”?! Foodgasm. A major one.
  • It was the same idea as having prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe, but in a new light and context.
  • The pork belly was crispy, incredibly juicy, savoury, buttery soft and tender.
  • The cubes of pork belly actually had the texture of crispy donuts with creamy melt in your mouth centres. It was amazing!
  • The cantaloupe was cut into chunks and still cold and they were tangy and sweet and incredibly ripe. They were almost pickled from the orange infused olive oil and pork belly sauce.
  • I’m not sure which melted faster as I ate the pork belly and cantaloupe together. They were simultaneously bursting with contrasting juices that complemented each other so well.
  • It was sweet and savoury and then there was the extra crunch of nutty marconas and salty bites of feta cheese… I was melting faster than the pork belly.
  • The pork belly was obviously rich, heavy and indulgent, but the citrus orange and aromatic mint helped to keep it more balanced.
  • Again the textures and flavours were very well thought out and this is one of the best pork belly dishes I’ve had.
  • It’s not the same, but if you suddenly have a craving that you need to satisfy asap and you’re in Vancouver, BC, then try the Maple Chipotle Tamarind Glazed Wild Boar Belly at Cobre Nuevo Latino.
**Baby Back Pork Ribs 5.5/6
  • Strawberry-cinnamon glazed baby back pork ribs $9
  • This is another one of the house favouites.
  • I want my baby back, baby back, baby back… omg! Chef! What are you doing to me? This was like the dessert for meat lovers!
  • Forget about bacon doughnuts (which is now old news), and say hello to “Strawberry-cinnamon glazed baby back pork ribs”! Heellllloooo!
  • It smelt like smoky caramel with a hint of warm cinnamon and this would have been great with peaches too if it wasn’t strawberries. The strawberries gave it a tangier profile and I could have used more of them.
  • The ribs were pretty fatty and a bit crispy and the meat didn’t slide off the bone (which they shouldn’t unless boiled first), but it still came off the bone easily as it should.
  • The saucy sticky ribs tasted like honey garlic molasses with perhaps an acidic tang of balsamic and maybe even a little bit of maple.
  • It was a sweet and tangy syrupy glaze and the meat was tender and moist, but not juicy.
  • It was a caramelization of pork that wasn’t too sweet despite all the flavours.
  • There was enough of a kick, boldness and meatiness to keep it in the category of “BBQ rib” and not “dessert”.
Risotto of Escargot4.5/6
  • Risotto of escargot, smoked pork belly, leeks, vialone nano, & asiago $13
  • Vialone Nano is one of the higher qualities of Italian rice to use for risotto and it is ideal with snails, or escargot.
  • Not only is this a rare dish to come across, but it’s a rare dish to come across even at Italian restaurants. I’ve never seen it offered on a menu. I’ll take one!
  • If you just read the menu description… it’s well thought out.
  • Pork belly and leeks are great flavours for soups, and together with the risotto of escargot, it was the perfect match.
  • I just wanted better execution and it may have been a bit rushed. Risotto needs TLC.
  • There were some additional mushrooms which just made it better and the flavours were smoky and salty however the smoked pork belly was a bit chewy. The flavour of it was infused throughout, but I was hoping for a better texture.
  • The flavours were cheesy and smoky and it was creamy and rich, but also a bit soupy like congee, although this type of risotto is lighter.
  • The risotto grains were a bit smaller, and not overcooked, but a bit less distinct than I wanted.
  • I did love the stringy caramelized leeks and the bacon was the strongest in flavour and it did come across as a bacon and leek cream soup.
  • The escargot was tender and not chewy at all and it would even have the French impressed.
  • I could have used more of a snail flavour, and it was still a good dish, but it could have gotten better unlike some of the previous dishes.
Seared Foie4/6
  • Seared foie, fingerlings, ham chips, sunny egg, maple, hot sauce $17
  • This was highly recommended, but I find it a controversial dish, much like the restaurant itself. No wonder it’s a house favourite.
  • It was almost a bastardization of foie gras if you’re a purists, but if you’re not, then it could possibly be the answer to an exquisite breakfast for dinner.
  • It would be so right and so wrong had that sunny side up egg been a duck egg too… maybe for their next menu? I wouldn’t hesitate to see it on there.
  • It was actually a very big piece of foie gras and it was seared with a ham chip crust so it almost tasted like it was crusted with bacon. It wasn’t really crusted though and it seemed more like bacon confetti. Bacon and foie gras? Omg yes please, take me to the stairway to heaven.
  • Wait and now top it with a fried egg that has a runny yolk so I can use it as a sauce? As if it wasn’t rich enough already! Drool. I have an obsession with runny eggs. See my Tribute to the Egg Yolk Series.
  • The foie was obviously buttery, melting and very healthy… and by that I mean big and fatty with a ton of flavour.
  • The bacon and the maple combination was a shout out to home (Canada for me) and it gave the dish a perfect amount of sweetness to balance out the savoury. Foie gras requires sweetness.
  • The hot sauce was almost a shout out to the South and I found it unnecessary. That was the “bastardization” part for me, but because it was on the side, I just avoided it.
  • The fingerling potatoes were tender and slightly crispy, but I would have traded them for a toasted brioche to soak up all the sauces.
  • Regardless it was a delicious foie gras dish, but if you’re a gourmet it might make you want to cry… and if you’re not, it still might make you want to cry, but with bloody joy.
**Bacon Doughnuts4/6
  • Bacon doughnuts, dulche de leche, coffee ice cream $6
  • Oh look! And there it is! I knew it was coming. I called it “old news” in the “Crispy Baby Back Pork Ribs” section of this post. I meant it, but it doesn’t mean I still don’t enjoy it.
  • It’s the most popular dessert, but I’ve had better bacon doughnuts before.
  • The apparent creator of this sweet and savoury dessert was Voodoo Doughnut in Portland – my post here, and now it just seems to be everywhere, hence my recent post on Bacon in Desserts.
  • I just wasn’t a fan of the doughnuts here and they tasted like those savoury Chinese donuts you would eat with congee.
  • It was just a very basic doughnut batter that wasn’t cakey or dense, nor was it light and fluffy either.
  • The doughnuts were coated in dulche de leche and tossed in cinnamon and brown sugar, but I would prefer the carnival donuts to these ones. Those carnival donuts are actually great though!
  • It wasn’t too sweet, but sweeter than normal because of the dulche de leche.
  • I could taste the salty crispy bacon and it was good, but there are better versions of the bacon doughnut.
  • I love the addition of the creamy home made espresso ice cream and I always like hot and cold combinations in desserts anyways.
  • The coffee and donut theme was great! The espresso just enhanced the smokiness in the bacon and a little bit of chocolate espresso beans in the ice cream would have been nice too.
Brown Sugar-Rum Budino3/6
  • Brown sugar-rum budino, brandied cherries, chocolate bark, peanut brittle, heering caramel $6
  • Although it’s not as popular as the bacon doughnuts, it’s well liked by the staff.
  • It was almost a parfait of custard. Budino is an Italian pudding, but it’s a bit thicker and denser especially since this one was brown sugar based.
  • It reminded me of dulche de leche and it was thick, rich, creamy and sweet and the rum was nicely cooked out and quite mild.
  • It was like eating spoonfuls of buttery caramel but not sticky or chewy and it’s not as thick as peanut butter or anything like that, but still thick.
  • There was some texture from the peanut brittle, but I wanted more of it.
  • The brandied cherries were few, but they helped break things up and they weren’t overly boozy.
  • The whipped cream on top wasn’t sweetened which helped lighten the pudding making it more like a mousse, but barely.
  • It ended up being like a caramelized pudding meets a mousse and it was just too much of one thing for me.
  • I enjoyed the chocolate bark most, and for what it was, it was good, but just over indulgent.
  • It kind of reminded me of the Dulche De Leche dessert from Cobre Nuevo Latino in Vancouver, BC.
Complimentary Watermelon with Pomegranate Molasses & Lime Zest
  • Chef just thought of everything didn’t he?! As unexpected as the amuse bouche, this was the palate cleanser to finish off the meal that I wasn’t going to forget!
  • Better than any oranges or frozen grapes was this!
  • There’s nothing like the refreshing crunch of a ripe watermelon after dinner, but this one was lightly glazed with tangy pomegranate syrup.
  • It introduced me to a whole new level of flavour and enjoyment for this fruit.
  • It was almost sweet, tangy and also savoury with the combination working together.
  • The accent of lime zest just topped it off with that extra bit of brightness.
  • It was very creative, yet so simple and I’ll take this over a mint too. Ohhh mint! Actually a fresh mint leaf on top of the watermelon would have literally topped this off!

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