Do or Dine chef wins TV show, our hearts, and our stomachs

Do or Dine chef wins TV show, our hearts, and our stomachs
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A young Bedford-Stuyvesant chef has staked his reputation on something as boring as a Caesar salad — and it worked.

Justin Warner, the executive chef at Do or Dine, won over hearts, minds, and stomachs by reinventing the most unexciting of salads and turned it into something surprising, cerebral, and delicious enough to make him Food Network’s next TV star.

“It’s cool to be where I am, when I am,” said the 28-year-old, who dubbed his successful TV pilot “Rebel with a Culinary Cause.” “But the best part about it is to be when I am, where I am, and to know that there is so much more I can learn.”

One thing he doesn’t need to study is how to make dishes that balance high-minded genius with low-brow comfort.

Take his “Leap Year Special” — a dish of fried frog legs slathered in a spicy Dr. Pepper glaze. It’s a bold take on the standard buffalo wing that elevates it to the echelon of high cuisine while never forgetting that the restaurant he runs is, at the end of the day, a neighborhood joint. It’s a double-act that chefs more famous than Warner have fumbled, as anyone who’s been to Milk Bar knows.

Stefano Giovannini

The Dr. Pepper should be the dish’s obvious star, but surprisingly, the sauce is mild — letting the exquisitely cooked frog legs take center stage. There’s a dissonance between such meticulousness in a dish that makes your hands messy, but this combination of whimsy thoughtfulness and gourmet execution is what Warner does best.

Even more successful is his steak tartare, which comes to the table looking like a five-year-old played with his food and put it together — in the crude shape of a cow. The dish ranks among the finest restaurant offerings that diners will find with its requisite spice dancing in lock-step with the buttery raw meat. However, it’s the tangy, chocolaty espresso aioli that’s Warner’s immaculate conception.

It should be on everything.

Speaking of dietary contradictions and fancy plates that are oddly down-to-earth, go for the foie gras jelly doughnut. It’s cruel not to eat it.

Do or Dine [1108 Bedford Ave. between Gates and Lexington avenues, in Bedford Stuyvesant, (718) 684–2290]. Mon.–Sat. 6–11 pm, Sun. 2–10 pm.

Stefano Giovannini