Restaurant review: Do or Dine

This earnest addition to Bed-Stuy falls short.

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  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Outdoor dining at Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Outdoor dining at Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    A Fish and Some Chips at Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Nippon Nachos at Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    "New Zealand" duck breast at Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Do or Dine

  • Photograph: Noah Devereaux

    Do or Dine

    Do or Dine

Photograph: Noah Devereaux

Do or Dine

Outdoor dining at Do or Dine

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

It's the dream of countless working stiffs, a fantasy so many life savings are blown on: to have a place of one's own, a restaurant or bar for friends and neighbors. If not for the exorbitant rents and punishing payroll, who wouldn't want to take that leap?

The allure of a personal clubhouse seems to be the impetus behind Do or Dine in Bed-Stuy—a new bootstrap restaurant from four young friends dipping their toes into ownership for the first time. They've kept overhead low by opening up shop on the edge of gentrified Brooklyn, taking over a long-abandoned Caribbean restaurant (the old awning remains). It's a truly collaborative effort. Two owners cook, one does the drinks (the liquor license is still pending), and a fourth handles the design. But while this utopian collective gets many things right, these guys aren't pros—and it shows.

Partner Perry Gargano (a jewelry designer when he's not on the clock here) has built a playful and polished space, its booths lit with teacup lamp shades, its bistro floors laid with black-and-white tiles in a skull-and-crossbones pattern. And while the guy in the black rubber apron who served us dinner one night looked like he'd wandered up from a meth lab in the basement, he turned out, in fact, to be a conscientious and personable waiter.

Justin Warner and George McNeese, the 27-year-olds in the kitchen—and the real driving force behind the place—waited tables at the Modern before partnering up here. That might account for their restaurant's fastidious service and warm hipster vibe. But what would possess them, with no professional cooking experience, to sign on as chefs?

While their dishes often have the appearance of high-end restaurant food, there are limits, it's clear, to making it up as you go. Take the steak tartare, a classic you don't need a stint at Daniel to master. While Do or Dine's certainly looks impressive, the hand-chopped raw meat is mysteriously short on flavor, despite the mustard, sriracha and Kewpie mayo it's tossed with. A salad of baby carrots and citrus-cured artichokes is as lovely to look at, and just as bland.

Many other small dishes, meanwhile, read like a stoner-food prank. The deranged but tasty "Nippon Nachos," vegetarian pot stickers topped with pico de gallo and melted cheese, really make sense only at 3am in an altered state. But the sugar-bomb doughnuts, oozing apricot jam and whipped foie gras with the texture of deli chopped liver, wouldn't be a good idea at any hour. Ditto the bizarre batter-fried "Heart Attack!" pepper filled with a mealy mix of salmon and goat cheese.

While these half-baked creations crowd the starters and snacks at the top of the menu, the entres tend to be far more sedate. "A Fish and Some Chips" is just what it sounds like, a whole golden sea bass with thick, meaty fries. It may be the best thing on the menu—the beautifully blistered fish enlivened with yuzu and fish sauce. Duck breast served "New Zealand" style is also solidly cooked, but much more of a snooze on its muted bed of diced kiwi and fennel. A bowl of shellfish broth spiked with curry and fennel has fragrant promise, but it is undone by scrawny shrimp and meager clams.

Desserts are a challenge for even the most experienced savory chef. Warner and McNeese, thinking like Harold and Kumar, offer a deluxe riff on Elvis Presley's favorite snack—a deep-fried sandwich filled with cashew butter, bananas and Meat Hook bacon. It's tasty enough, if you're in the right frame of mind, but like all of the food here, it smacks of an amateur kitchen. Which is, of course, the real problem with this scrappy enterprise. Do or Dine may be operating at the fringes of hipster New York, but it's still a restaurant—not a supper club. They'd be better off hiring a professional chef.

Vitals

Eat this: Nippon Nachos, a Fish and Some Chips, the Elvis

Drink this: Until the liquor license arrives, it's strictly BYOB. You can pick up a tall boy of Red Stripe at the bodega across the street.

Sit here: The best seats in the long dining room are up near the windows, where you can catch a view of the avenue. There's also alfresco dining in a concrete garden out back.

Conversation piece: The restaurant doubles as a street-art gallery, with splashy murals in the backyard and dining room by graffiti artists the 907 Crew. The art will change seasonally.

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108 Bedford Ave between Lexington Ave and Quincy St, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (718-684-2290). Subway: G to Bedford--Nostrand Aves. Mon--Sat 6--11pm. Average main course: $15.

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