229 South 4th Street, Williamsburg
Rating: 4 out of 5 L's
Strange things happened to me when I walked into Traif on a recent sweaty summer evening. For one, I wasn't greeted by the dead-eyed stare of a taxidermied deer. There was no gourmet burger on the menu, let alone gourmet macaroni and cheese. Nobody was wearing a bow-tie.
It turns out Traif is just the kick-in-the-ass that the New Brooklyn culinary scene was looking for. Its chef, Jason Marcus, has ambitions beyond rehashing comforting childhood favorites. His menu takes risks. His food bursts with color and life. The space, all warm oranges and browns, is modern and inviting, with none of the faux-vintage frippery that can sometimes make dining in Brooklyn feel like Disneyland.
My party and I took our seats on the outdoor patio that, charmingly, is mostly occupied by untrampled grass and leafy plants. I dug into a plate of chicken wings—slick, crisp and tangy with a five-spice glaze— string lights and grape vines intertwined on the trellis overhead. Lamb and chorizo meatballs came out next, draped in paper-thin slices of manchego. The chipotle cream sauce was so good that every last bit of it was scooped up with forks, even after the last meatball was gone. I washed it down with a cold Peak Organic IPA, one of several bottled craft beers available. The wine list is fairly Euro-centric, with a few New World varieties thrown in, many priced in the $30 range.
Gamine waitresses came and went, shuttling away plates and bringing out new dishes one at a time. The style here is small plates, meant to be shared by the whole group, with portions big enough for you not to feel cheated. Next came four seared scallops, cooked tender enough to barely resist our eager forks. They came served over a mound of buttery soft snap-and-English-pea risotto so good I would have gladly ordered it as a separate dish.
Not everything was a complete hit. Tiny New Zealand cockles with shell pasta and little chunks of pancetta came in a broth too thick with butter, only slightly tempered by the heat coming from the chilies. Sauted sweetbreads, served in a deliciously earthy sauce dotted with artichokes and mushrooms, could have benefited from a serious sear for a bit of textural contrast.
But I'm being nitpicky; I'd go back for seconds on either the cockles or the sweetbreads. Even the dishes that didn't quite wow were still excellent, and provided something new and interesting to consider. Rejoice, Williamsburg. There's finally something to eat in the neighborhood besides burgers.