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

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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?

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Traif
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.

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    Traif
    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.

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          Traif
          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".

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            Traif
            229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

            1. Just to add to the conversation--I fully agree with the OP. Went on Wednesday and it was definitely one of the best meals I've had for a while too. 4 pax had 10 dishes, all very good (standouts were a salad with peaches & bacon; the short rib sliders & sweet potato fries; broccoli rabe with portabello&truffle toast & an egg; and bacon doughnuts), and it cost a fantastic $144 with 8 beers. Cute patio. Nice touch with the amuse and mini-dessert. I was reluctant to post because I raved about Kaz an Nou in Prospect Heights (and then the Times did) and now I can't get a table ... but Traif deserves your love.

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              Traif
              229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

              1. Traif Saturday night for a late dinner with a group. WOW!!! We ordered almost everything on the menu and shared. Innovative and tasty!! What more can I say? I loved my cocktail with bacon bits on the rim of the glass.

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                Traif
                229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

                1 Reply
                1. re: Motosport

                  We had dinner at Traif last night, sitting at the bar. I have to agree with Motosport -- WOW!!! I wanted to lick most plates clean. The brussel sprout salad was unforgettable. We also had the lettuce wrapped duck confit, foie with fingerlings, calamari, ribs and bacon donuts. Next time, I probably would substitute something else for the duck and calamari -- but that is not to say they weren't good, just not as unique as some other things on the menu that I would like to try. It was too cold for the backyard, but the space looked inviting. Really inventive food, well trained & fun staff, and nice, if cramped and a bit noisy, atmosphere.

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                  Traif
                  229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

                2. I went recently and it was not what I was expecting. It was far better.

                  1. Traif blew me away. Amazing.

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                    Traif
                    229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

                    1. after all of the year end reviews, i finally checked out traif tonight with some friends. definitely a hike from the bedford L...particularly on this freezing night but as ive always believed, people trek far for good food. the place was absolutely packed.

                      service was friendly and competent overall. our server recommended some dishes and everything came out at a perfect pace...quickly but not too quickly that we couldnt savor everything.

                      wine list was ok. prices were decent...just didnt have any excellent choices. a $41 bottle of priorat was merely ok.

                      as for the food, we had a lot of the heavy stuff:

                      -strawberry baby back ribs...too sweet for my taste. imagine a sugary glaze on ribs and you're mostly there. my friends liked these but i wouldnt order them again.

                      -pork cheeks...i forgot what was on these...almost looked like a terrine. it was good but nothing memorable.

                      -pork belly with shishito peppers and feta...the pork belly took a back seat here. i love shishito peppers and they were great but wish there was more pork. ultimately, the dish was good.

                      -seared foie with fingerling potatoes, egg...this was a favorite...perfectly cooked piece of foie. reminded me of montreal or paris. the sauce was slightly sweet, slightly hot...excellent dish.

                      -sweetbreads with japanese eggplant...my personal favorite of the night. expertly cooked sweetbreads...a bit saltier than most preparations but delicious.

                      -tuna tartare on fried eggplant...someone on a table nearby recommended this and it was quite good.

                      -broccoli rabe with truffled toast and egg...surprised by how much i enjoyed this. probably the heaviest vegetable dish i can think of. broccoli was super bitter and the egg balanced it out.

                      we had the caramel budino for dessert. it was enjoyable but i was full at this point.

                      7 dishes, 1 bottle of priorat came to $137 before tip. considering the amount of food, the quality of the food, etc...this was a winner.

                      i won't go out of my way to try traif but it's one of the finest restaurants in williamsburg.

                      1. From reading all of the super enthusiastic positive reviews, I was kind of surprised by my experience. The menu sounded fantastic, but I thought the food was just good. Things just kind of missed the mark for me. Were my expectations higher? Perhaps. I was kind of hoping their foie preparation with maple, egg and hot sauce would be more like LA's Animal's version (which is one of my favorites). But I was kind of disappointed with the vinegary hot sauce cutting through the richness.

                        Overall, I thought it was OK. The menu was really gently priced. Service was very friendly. But the food just didn't really do it for me.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          i agree with you...expectations were high and the food was merely good overall. i also love animal and obviously that is their biggest source of inspiration. definitely not close to what animal is doing but its certainly nice to have a restaurant like traif.

                        2. We dropped by (the J/M/Z station is way closer) a few weeks ago and liked but did not love it.

                          The amuse of bacon broth was really nice - rich and smoky, very interesting for a broth.

                          Felt the same way about the ribs as sam1 - cloying, overly sweet, eh. Overwhelmed me, so I gave the rest to my husband.

                          The egg and broccoli rabe dish was pretty good, felt a bit like if you took 'ino's truffled egg toast and threw it onto some bitter greens. The greens were also whole so it took a lot of sawing to eat. And we had way more rabe than other components so by the end, you're left with a bunch of broccoli rabe. Good but not great.

                          Seared foie with fingerling potatoes, egg, maple, hot sauce was excellent, and we didn't mind how much hot sauce was on there. The best dish we had.

                          We thought the sweetbreads were good, prepared well, but not really special. What was good was what else was on the plate. Loved the deep fried chunks of eggplant and other seasonal vegetables. Pretty good but I wished the sweetbreads had been the star.

                          The raved about bacon donuts were good but a little weird in my opinion (bacon seemed to overwhelm the donut), and I was pretty full by the time dessert rolled around. The chocolate truffles we had with the check were excellent though.

                          I wouldn't go out of my way to eat there but if they had space, I'd drop in for a snack (my husband said Traif was only OK and THEN made me promise to take him to Pies 'n' Thighs next time we're nearby). It looks awfully popular, though, since they take reservations. We snagged a 2 top and immediately the room filled up. And this was midweek.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: kathryn

                            Yes, it is very popular because the food is fabulous and you would pay 3 or 4 times more at other places for that quality. Because the prices are gentle and plates relatively small you get to sample many more items then you normally would and as in any restaurant there are always some dishes I like more than others and inevitably one or two that don't strike my particular palate. However, the quality is amazing and this young chef/owner is versatile and always changing and innovating. What's not to like??? But if you don't like it this just makes more space for the rest of us who love to frequent Traif

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                            Traif
                            229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

                          2. It might be the name. The place sounds great! But the name is actually kind of offensive to me and made me lose interest until I read your review. Maybe I'll check it out.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: snood

                              The name is kind of a joke since the chef/owner is Jewish and like many modern Jews in America we remain who we are but often have incorporated the former forbidden "traif." Indeed, my schetl grandparents loved "traif" but only indulged outside the home. But the place is great and the chef's partner is a charming young woman who will make you feel right at home. This place has the attributes of a local neighborhood place with the quality of a far more expensive restaurant. Sine they are "young" there is a great amount of enthusiasm for the art and craft of both the restaurant itself and the cuisine. And there are many seasonal specials and, might I add, some very creative cocktails, even in the context of a now mixologist crazed NY. Try it - you will like it and if not, well, unlike many other places, you won't feel your wallet was unduly relieved of its contents.

                              1. re: Mangita

                                So after procrastinating for awhile, I finally made it over to Traif last weekend for dinner. Made same day reservations and was greeted by co-owner Heather. Sat at a table that directly across of kitchen for a wonderful view of every plate being sent out.

                                Started out with an amuse of a Pumpkin Massaman Curry Soup served in a small cup. Good, nothing great, but a nice gesture nonetheless. The soup contained a faint hint of curry and was very hot temperature wise, which I appreciate.

                                Ordered two cocktails, Red Pearl and Pimm's Fizz, thought both were very good. Very well balanced and the entire list looked interesting. I especially enjoyed the chili infused vodka in the Red Pearl that was balanced by the Thai Basil and Kiwi.

                                Ordered quite a lot, since I had read about the small portions. Started with the Brusssels Sprouts which came with puffed rice, grapes, tomatoes and puffed rice and cilantro. Dish would have been great had the sprouts not been overcooked. A bit disappointing, but similar flavor profile to something from Ma Peche.

                                The "Spicy" Tuna Tartare served on Tempura Japanese Eggplant again was good, but nothing mind blowing. The eggplant wasn't greasy, nor was it crisp which was my main complaint. I wish there was a bit more textural contrast, however, the tuna tasted good and was spicier than similar versions you might expect at your local sushi joint.

                                The Cripsy Pork Belly with White Anchovies and Feta was fine, but I'm not sure I really got the dish. The saltiness of the feta and anchovy was appreciated since the pork belly was underseasoned, but when combined, didn't quite come together.

                                Knowing the chef's pedigree, I made sure to order the Seared Scallops which came with a Blue Crab sauce of sorts and a cauliflower puree? I have the complete discriptions back home but don't remember. Anyways, the first great dish IMO. The scallops were seared perfectly, and their natural sweetness was enhanced by the sweet crab sauce and puree.

                                Ordered two more cocktails, Autumn Cabin and Mojito. Thought both were ok, not as good as our first two.

                                The Strawberry-Cinanamon Glazed Ribs were very sweet, however, I didn't find them any sweeter than the version at Ma Peche which came in an extremely sweet caramel sauce of its own. The meat was tender and still moist and had been deep fried at the last minute, ensuring there were some crispy bits to go alone the sweet glaze, another winner.

                                Totally agree with Kathyrn about the Foie with Fingerlings, a Sunny Side Egg, Maple Syrup and Hot Sauce. Incredible! Foie for breakfast, yes please. I really love how maple pairs with foie and the hot sauce provided a nice kick to the rest of the plate. The egg was cooked perfectly and was delicious when you used the fingerlings to mop up all the runny yolk.

                                Almost didn't order the sweetbreads after our server initially forgot to place the order. Glad we did, the sweetbreads themselves were very well cooked, wonderfully crisp. They were accompanied by fried Japanese Eggplant and fried Brussels Sprouts (great texture) and covered with a truffle sauce. A bit heavy, my only real complaint was that there was some acid on the plate to provide some balance. However, if you're a fan of sweetbreads, these won't disappoint. BTW, this plate is quite a substantial portion compared to the rest of the dishes.

                                To finish we ordered the Bacon Doughnuts. Good...not as great as everyone claims, but solid. I love the whole sweet-savory overlap in desserts and enjoyed the coffee ice cream with the doughnuts riffing on the whole breakfast theme. I can understand how others might feel the bacon overwhelms the doughnuts but personally thought it was fine.

                                Ended the meal with petit four of pineapple with a pomegranate molasses, a nice way to end the meal, especially with the acidity of the pineapple to cleanse the palate.
                                Overall, a solid place. Really packed and quite popular. I was impressed by how well the entire staff, both FOTH and BOTH worked. The owners seem like very dedicated and passionate people and I hope, for their sake, that they continue to improve and succeed.

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                                Traif
                                229 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

                            2. My bf and I went last nite, for the first time since their opening week. I am happy to report that as with our initial visit, the food is just as wildly unique while sparing no expense to the yumminess. I don't think you can go wrong with anything on the menu - we have had about a dozen different dishes in our two visits here and regretted nothing.
                              If you are looking for new and exciting flavors, Traif is a genuinely wonderful restaurant. My only complaint: the decor needs some serious thought. But who cares when everything tastes so delicious and fun!