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May 19, 2010 09:18 AM

Traif review - best meal in a long time...

I was a little disappointed not to see any results when I searched for Traif on these boards, because it means that it is not getting enough love. What is keeping 'hounders away? Is it the ironic name? the somewhat hard-to-find crappy location by the BQE/Williamsburg bridge interchange? The fact that their daily menu hasn't been updated on their website since what appears to be their opening day?

Anyway, I twisted my wife's arm last Saturday night to go check it out, and we arrived to a nearly empty place at 6 o'clock. We went out back to the garden seating (an actual garden, mind you, with trees, flowers, a yard with a foot path through it and a swinging chair, along with a small patio that has 5 or 6 small tables. Most of the space is green), and grabbed a table with our three-year old. One other table was occupied with some local latinas and their kids - not exactly whom we expected to be dining with, but they were eating pretty enthusiastically.

The concept is sharing plates - and we ordered the following: short rib sliders with sweet potato fries (2 to an order); seared scallops with an avocado cream; sauteed sweetbreads with shitakes, asparagus and artichoke hearts; a sugar pea/tomato/grape/almond salad; and pan-fried softshell crabs.

I also ordered a cocktail - chili infused vodka with thai basil, and a tart component that I can't remember - but it was great - heat, sweet and good flavor from the herb. Only complaints with this was that it was a little light on the booze and the basil was a little bedraggled.

Chef sent out an amuse of chilled cream of asparagus with truffle oil. Beautiful.

Next out came the sliders - shredded beef in a smoky, slightly sweet bbq glaze that was perfectly fine (these were primarily for the three year old), but the sweet potato fries were a knockout - crispy, light, not oily, and soft inside, they were probably the best iteration I've had.

The softshell crabs were two rather big specimens perched atop a small heap of greens, a fat slice of tomato and a crusty slice of bread. Sort of like a BLT, but with the crab instead of bacon. At first the bread seemed too thick and dry, but when you took a forkful of all the elements it was wonderful - the crab was juicy and seasoned just aggressively enough that the whole bite was a great melange. We overheard the waitress telling the other table that the chef really focused on not only flavors, but also textural components and that was pretty clear from this dish. We gobbled that right up.

Scallops were seared beautifully, sweet and tender, and they paired up nicely with the delicate flavor of the avocado "sauce" they were sitting in. Along with the flavors, the other impressive element here was that the dish cost $16 for 4 big scallops. I've paid nearly twice as much for half as many.

The sweetbreads were tender and cooked no more than necessary. The mushrooms, asparagus and artichoke were excellent playmates and the butter from the saute pan held it all together.

My only other complaint was that the red wine I ordered was way too warm.

For dessert we had the bacon donuts - little deep fried doughballs topped with bacon and honey served with a scoop of coffee ice cream; very good; and the strawberry cobbler, which was tremendous.

Please go and check this place out! I want to be able to keep eating here for years!! The place was about a third full when we left at 7:45, but it should be packed. Sophisticated, exciting, clever food...what more do you want?

229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

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  1. Wow, thank you for that recommendation. I dragged my husband off to Traif tonight on the basis of your review and was not disappointed. We sat in the very pretty and soothing garden and sipped on an in season and inventive Rhubarb sour- the perfect drink for a comfortably warm evening. There was a steady stream of customers and for a kitchen that has only been open for 6 weeks, the food came out steadily and the service was pleasant and accommodating. We started with the wonderful blue cheese bacon wrapped dates on an arugula salad which was a perfect blend of sweet and salty and moved on to a tuna tartar on tempura eggplant slices. The tuna blended with a nice hint of spice. Very nice after the dates and cleared the palate for the next course. We followed up with a kind of pate with pickled onions and watermelon accompanied by puffy toasts of brioche (very interesting!) and finished off with the sweetbreads you so ably described and then the donuts (which I thoroughly enjoyed), Vietnamese and regular coffee. everything was perfectly executed with a creative twist. This is a chef who knows his craft and loves to cook.
    The bill was very reasonable for this quality of food (about $75 after tax but before a tip). The chef came by to check and see if all was well, as did his very able partner. She told us that there will always be seasonal additions and subtractions to the menu and that the chef looks for what is best in the market for that day. All in all a lovely dinner- a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere serving incredibly well executed and creative dishes at super reasonable prices. We will definitely go back. This is the type of establishment that deserves our support.

    229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mangita

      Glad you liked it so much. And glad to hear there was a decent customer flow. We're going back for brunch this Sunday. It's hard to avoid sounding like a shill for them, isn't it?

      1. re: sir chowalot

        Yes, but I loved (loved) the place and it has a very unique flavor profile with a really talented young chef who really deserves to be supported by those of us who profess to genuinely love food. And the location shouldn't put anyone else because it is practically around the corner from Pies and Thighs. Let us know how the brunch is. And again, thanks for the review - my husband declared it will become a regular destination for us!

        1. re: Mangita

          Just reporting back on brunch. Went with another family, so six of us this time - they pushed two tables together for us on the patio. We ate the following:

          Dutch Pancake with fresh berries; Bacon and egg sliders; french toast stuffed with with nutella and bananas; eggs fried in a "bird nest" (thick cut bread with holes cut in the middle for the egg to plop through) with cheese and other stuff; chicken and biscuits; and more bacon doughnuts. All of this was excellent and I wished that I had ordered any of it.

          Unfortunately, I had ordered the one bad thing we've had at Traif. It was supposed to be crispy braised bacon with sunnyside egg, udon noodles and smoky miso broth. The problem was that rather than udon, the noodle was some generic ramen noodle. To make matters worse, the noodles were overcooked to the point of mushiness and, for some reason, had been cut into inch long bits, which made them hard to eat off the fork. While the bacon was good it was not generously apportioned, and the "smoky" broth could have been smokier or have integrated a little more umami and a little less sweetness.

          Fortunately, the bloody mary was terrific - super spicy and properly focused on the vodka rather than the tomato juice. Coffee was very good too. It would be nice if they added bacon/sausage as sides also.

          229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

    2. sir chowalot, thanks for posting this review. i live in clinton hill and, based on your review, my wife and i decided to check it out last friday. needless to say, we love it. from the cocktails (whiskey with green tea and lemon) to the food, we thoroughly enjoyed it. for apps, we shared the pork belly over black lentils w/ tomato sauce (our favorite item) and for entrees we had the scallops with snap pea risotto and the soft shell crab. And the bacon donuts are amazing!

      i highly recommend this spot for its quality food, fun atmosphere, friendly staff and value. i will definitely be returning.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chewbie

        Thank you for the brunch review. we will definitely try brunch (but avoid the udon). We took some friends there on Sunday and they fell in love with the place- from the rhubarb sours and the "Piggy" drink to the tuna tatare, corn" arepas" with shrimp to the strawberry bbq ribs they loved it all. I just hope this special place doesn't go under before it has a chance to attract a following- which it so well deserves

      2. I was so looking forward to this place. I went over the weekend and I have to say I was disappointed. Had alot of interesting things on the menu. I shared a few of them, lamb and chorizo meatballs, good, the ribs not so good, I wish they cleaned the cartilage off better. The short rib sliders....tasted strange. The pork croquettes as well as the corn pancake with rock shrimp, very greasy as was the bing cherry pie. I believe they use the fryer a little too much.

        1. Agreed w/ the very positive review of traif. I had a really nice dinner there a few weeks back - the food was on point and very reasonably priced and the FOH were really nice. Lovely back patio area as well. Definitely worth the trek from Manhattan. I hope these guys get more coverage soon so they don't fold like Knife + Fork.

          1. NY Magazine has recommended Traif as one of its "Cheap Eats" recommendations. Quoting in full:

            "Even in the realm of cheap eats, the Underground Gourmet has always prized quality over quantity—as should anyone, we might argue, who doesn’t inhale Nathan’s hot dogs for a living. And with more and more fine-dining chefs scaling back their tariffs, if not their technique, quality has never been better. This is immediately evident at Traif (229 S. 4th St., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; 347-844-9578), chef-owner Jason Marcus’s tongue-in-pork-cheek rebuke to Jewish dietary law. But there’s more to Traif than bacon and shrimp: The changing menu features offbeat salads, like a recent combo of dark-roasted carrots, orange segments, arugula, feta, and grapes ($6), and barbecue-braised short-rib sliders served with attention-grabbing sweet-potato fries ($8). With prices like that, you don’t expect shot-glass amuses and dainty mignardises, like a juicy pineapple cube adorned with pomegranate molasses and lime zest, but Traif delivers both, as well as an appealing wine list and serious Schott Zwiesel stemware".

            229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211