Traif's crispy pork belly with braised artichokes and muscat grapes; marinated yellowtail with asparagus, meyer lemon, and shiitake.(Kim Davidson)
The last time I was in Williamsburg was for shlugging kaparot, a ritual chicken sacrifice before Yom Kippur. Tuesday night was a little bit different. It was opening night for the restaurant Traif, which is dedicated to serving almost exclusively non-kosher cuisine. Traif (meaning “unkosher” in Yiddish) practically begs to stick in the craw of the nearby Hasidic community with its celebration of pork and shellfish served alongside Jewish staples like potato latkes. (Coulda been worse: The restaurant initially considered opening in a space that once housed a Jewish morgue.) I showed up Tuesday evening, friends and dietary restrictions—I don’t eat non-kosher meat—in tow, with a mission: to see if a kosher meal at Traif could rival a trayf one. My partners in crime: another Modern Orthodox Jew along for the adventure (“Adventurous Jew”); a knowledgeable foodie with a penchant for shellfish (“Fish Lover”); and one who was simply prepared to inhale the food (“Bottomless Pit”).
We started the night with a round of drinks from Traif’s imaginative cocktail list. This allowed me to order my only item with the word “bacon” in it: Henry Bacon’s Bathwater, a refreshing medley of Meyer-lemon-infused vodka, cucumber, and St. Germaine. My friends were also pleased with their cocktails and wines.
Round 1: Tie.
We first ordered a hearts of palm appetizer that we all could enjoy, but it proved unimpressive. Bottomless Pit became distracted by the crisp pork-belly appetizer with her name on it. Soon, my favorite dish of the night arrived: marinated yellowtail, asparagus, Meyer lemon, shitake. Very agreeable spicy tuna tartare on tempura eggplant with kecap manis followed.
Round 2: Kosher person.
Thus ended the possibilities of dishes I could eat. Fish Lover ordered herself “sea scallops, snap and English pea risotto, caper-brown butter,” and Bottomless Pit surveyed the hangar steak with potato latkes. The scallops were well received, but the hangar steak was overcooked.
Round 3: Non-kosher people.
As the night wore on, I noticed that the Adventurous Jew (who doesn’t eat at non-kosher restaurants) kept sampling food. At first it was the raw fish, then the cheese, then the risotto around the scallops. Eventually, he dove into the scallops. Adventurous Jew ate trayf for the first time at Traif. “Tastes like fish,” he said.
To test the restaurant’s flexibility toward people with dietary boundaries, I asked if there were meat or shellfish dishes I could order sans meat or shellfish. The staff graciously obliged, but what remained of the pancetta and pork-belly appetizers minus pancetta and pork belly wasn’t very tasty.
The rest of my party ordered the bacon-wrapped blue-cheese-stuffed dates with spinach a la catalana, and the braised BBQ short rib slides, smoked gouda, and sweet potato fries. The former was unremarkable, but latter turned out to be the hit of the night. Bottomless Pit loved it. Adventurous Jew—more adventurous than we’d bargained for—looked like he was in heaven.
Round 4: I am losing.
For dessert, we ordered “bacon doughtnuts, dulche de leche, coffee ice cream” and “candy bar: dark chocolate, p.b., raspberry, pistachio ice cream.” I could only eat the latter (“p.b.,” luckily, meant “peanut butter,” not “pork belly”), but the former seemed to be the real star. Adventurous Jew bit into the bacon doughnut, closed his eyes, and said, “This is the best sufganiya I’ve ever had.”
Round 5: Game over.
I lost in a landslide. But I’ll be dreaming about that yellowtail for the rest of my life.