Heuser, who manages the restaurant, likes to think the restaurant takes from Judaism what she most appreciates about her partner's religious tradition: the emphasis on "family, rituals, and people coming together around food." To encourage community, the owners chose a tapas-style menu so every dish can be shared. Small oval plates accompany each entrée, salad, and dessert.
Heuser and Marcus are particularly friendly, ready to chat about the food, the artwork, and any detail from any episode of Seinfeld that the two can impressively recall in an instant—all creating somewhat of a haimish (homey) and inviting environment.
The restaurant offers a mix of well-priced, exciting dishes, including a spicy tuna tartare with tempura eggplant and a crisp pork belly with braised artichokes and Muscat grapes. The chef is especially excited about two dishes: his braised pork cheeks à l'ancienne, which his parents deemed "the best brisket ever," and the sea scallops, snap pea, and English pea risotto served with caper brown butter, another "traify" dish that Marcus loves for its seasonality. The dessert that has received a lot of attention is the bacon doughnut with dulce de leche and coffee ice cream, though the miniature red velvet and carrot cupcakes are classy touches that further acclimate Traif to New York's dining culture.
A unique buzz emanated from the Jewish community, and some of its blogs and newspapers, in advance of Traif's opening, specifically among Jews who have left Orthodox Judaism. One formerly religious Jew and current stand-up comedian, Joshie ("it's one name, like Cher or Madonna"), began following the buzz and showed up on opening night.
"If this was 10 years ago, there's no way his windows would not be broken," said Joshie, who felt the need to support Traif in its opening week when he read negative comments on Traif's blog that he viewed as "thinly veiled" threats from the nearby Orthodox community. Joshie's two friends—one of whom is the son of a prominent rabbi and who ate non-kosher for the first time nearly a year ago in Las Vegas with Penn & Teller—said the food was truly special, far beyond their expectations. Joshie himself said he owes the owners for a touching evening, which he described as "getting off on a psychological level," and he added that he is interested in talking with the owners about hosting a meet-up of similarly disoriented former Orthodox Jews at the restaurant once a week.
Jason Marcus's connection to the forbidden is far different from some of his ex-Orthodox patrons: a nice Jewish boy from Randolph, New Jersey, he was bar mitzvahed at a reform synagogue. However, his connection still runs deep. "Do you have to call it Traif?" his mother, who grew up in a family that mostly kept kosher inside the house and let the rules slide outside, asked of her son.
Yes, he did. "It represents who I am, [and] I'm proud of who I am," Marcus says. He also believes it is a different story now in Williamsburg, where many of the customers he is targeting won't even know what traif means. Moreover, Marcus cannot deny that he loves taboo foods, and as he says, "I don't see a contradiction between eating bacon and all the other [religious] things I don't do."