Some rules are meant to be broken, right? At Traif, a nine-month-old restaurant in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, chef and co-owner Jason Marcus does just that. Turns out my man Jason and I have a few things in common: (1) we’re both Jewish; (2) we share a love for bacon and shellfish.
For those who don’t know, “traif” is Hebrew for non-kosher foods. This restaurant is a celebration of all things traif, and I’ve got to say – I want more.
The menu consists of small and large plates, all meant to be shared. We ended up choosing 1-2 dishes per person (which resulted in a lot of food — there were five of us).
A meal at Traif begins with an amuse bouche. Ours was a small cube of mozzarella with pomegranate seeds and aged balsamic vinegar.
This was okay, but not memorable. During our first visit to the restaurant a few months prior, John and I received an amuse bouche of bacon soup. Talk about yum.
First up: duck confit lettuce wraps with cucumber, grape tomatoes, and a banana-tamarind sauce.
The texture of the duck was spot on, and for someone who doesn’t really like banana, I enjoyed the sauce… but this was one of our least favorite dishes that evening.
Warm muenster cheese, apples, and crostini were next.
Warm, flavorful, and just overall yummy. Cheese and apples typically go well together, but the gooeyness of the warm muenster took this from an average cheese dish to something I would definitely order again.
One of our favorites of the night was this sweet and spicy Thai chili glazed calamari.
It was light. It was crunchy. It was perfectly seasoned with a nice heat. This is definitely a contender for some of the best calamari I’ve had in the city.
The lamb and chorizo meatballs, which people rave about… well, I could have done without them.
They’re served with manchego cheese in a chipotle cream. I blame the latter for my disinterest in eating these. I like chipotles, but sometimes find them too smokey.
For one of our larger entrées, we ordered a braised short rib over pumpkin polenta.
The pumpkin polenta is what caught my eye on the menu, and it did not disappoint. The beef was tender and fell apart, the polenta was warm and full of winter spices, and the sauce was a-mazing. More please.
The winner of the night, however – the pièce de résistance – was this spicy lobster stir-fry.
The list of ingredients was peculiar: lobster, sweet potatoes, string beans. But everything just worked. Stir-fry can be so boring, so one-note, but Chef Marcus brought this dish to another level with textural contrast, heat from the sauce, and that delicious, sweet lobster. If we weren’t anticipating dessert, we probably would have ordered a second helping.
Pork belly with quince was a disappointment. So much so that I had one bite and left the rest on my plate.
It was too fatty (yes, there is such a thing), and as a result, was our least favorite dish.
For our last savory item, we had pasta with clams and chorizo.
This was okay, but paled in comparison to some of the other dishes we enjoyed.
We were full (though keep in mind five of us split all that food!), but still, there was no way we were skipping out on dessert.
The chef’s mom makes pie fresh daily for the restaurant, and we obviously had to try a piece.
This key lime pie was really good. I’ve gotta hand it to his mom – well done.
The dessert everyone was anticipating, however, were the infamous bacon doughnuts.
You heard me.
Tiny little morsels of fried dough, covered in a sticky and sweet dulce de leche sauce, topped with little bits of bacon, and served alongside coffee ice cream.
I’ve got to say, I was expecting to hate these, but they were pretty good. I love bacon (see above), but never really jumped on the bacon-is-good-on-everything bandwagon. These doughnuts surprised me, though. The bacon added a nice crunch and a welcomed level of saltiness, but with a bite of coffee ice cream, the doughnuts were not overwhelmingly piggy.
This was my second meal at Traif, and while not every dish was outstanding, both meals were very successful. In fact, our first meal resulted in one of my top dishes of 2010 (read about it here). Chef Marcus is taking some big risks at Traif, but overall, it’s paying off. His menu is innovative, his standards are high, and the food will surely impress. I’m ready for trip #3.