March 14, 2011

Top Chef Restaurant Review: Social Eatz, by Angelo Sosa

My goodness, what a weekend! On Thursday, I had a work social event that ended up being pretty fruitful for me. I spoke with our CEO for about 20 minutes and the head of financial services for about 30, all about my thoughts on our integration (we were acquired a few months ago) and what cultural changes were still necessary to make it successful at the junior staff levels. On Friday, in the all day meetings we had, the CEO even called me out by name mid-meeting – hope that means I made a good impression!

Since I hadn’t gotten a ton of sleep the night before, I opted to lay low on Friday night. Of course, in New York, “laying low” just means not going out for a long night of drinking – I still had a pretty neat experience by checking out the second night of a brand new restaurant by a celebrity chef! I am a huge fan of Top Chef, and one of the contestants, Angelo Sosa, had just opened up a new restaurant in NYC the night before – Social Eatz.

Social Eatz is a small casual restaurant with extremely reasonable prices (particularly given the cachet of its owner); nothing was over $12, which is pretty unbelievable for a full-service restaurant in NYC. I was really excited to check out this new venture, as his old restaurant, Xie Xie, was a favorite of mine until it closed down. Xie Xie was a banh mi sandwich shop that offered counter service and limited seating, but it was always a great place to take out-of-towners to let them experience exquisitely complex Top Chef cuisine while still at an extremely reasonable price.

I had planned to visit Social Eatz on Saturday night with a friend, but ended up going on Friday with a coworker from my old airline job – we had a blast catching up over the small plates of tasty food. The portions weren’t huge, but they were perfectly adequate and filling – just not the massive amounts of food we’re accustomed to in many American restaurants.

When I arrived, it was packed – but the hostess was probably one of the friendliest and most polite I had ever dealt with. She told me it would be about a 20 minute wait, and offered that we could sit at the bar until our table was ready – however, the restaurant hadn’t gotten their liquor license yet, so there would be no cocktails to try. I was really disappointed – I had heard that the cocktails were a huge hit at the soft opening – but reminded myself that it would certainly make the meal a cheap one. In the end, I only spent $20 on two course + tax and tip. Not bad at all!

I started with the spring rolls, which ended up being the best I had ever tried from a texture perspective. They were perfectly crispy and crunchy, more so than any others I’ve tried. Unfortunately, the filling didn’t quite live up to the flaky wrapper – it was a bit bland, and while perfectly fine, just nothing special.

My coworker started with the Korean beef tacos, which came wrapped in a delicious corn tortilla. Though messy (they dripped with sauce once we rolled them up and tried to eat them burrito-style), they were our favorite dish of the night – the beef was done with a yummy cocoa rub that gave it a really complex flavor.

After waiting over 25 minutes for our entrees (which we forgave given that it was the second night), we found them to be tasty but not quite as impressive as the apps. I opted for the Hanoi burger, which promised to have flavors of lemongrass and cilantro. While it did have those, they weren’t intense and contrasting enough to make me feel like I was eating something really special. Furthermore, the burger was served on what seemed like a basic hamburger roll, which ended up getting soggy from the juicy burger. I think serving this on some sort of uniquely flavored but toasted roll would have greatly improved this dish… but maybe they’ll get that worked out. Meanwhile, my coworker got a hot dog (after telling me how he thought hot dogs would be the new “It” trend, like banh mi sandwiches or fried chicken)… but proclaimed it “just okay.” Bummer!

On Saturday, after a day of alternately lazing around and getting some errands done, I headed back to Social Eatz once again – I had promised a friend I would go with her, so when I “broke the rules” and went on Friday night, it meant a return visit. I was fine with that though – I had wanted to meet head chef Angelo Sosa, who had not been there on Friday, and I thought another try would also be a good thing since I hadn’t been overwhelmingly impressed on the first go round. On the way out, one of the hosts even offered me a 10% off coupon to sweeten the deal. Little did they know how soon I’d be back!

On Saturday night, rather than a packed restaurant where I’d have to wait for a table, the restaurant was actually pretty empty – which, when I thought about it, made sense given its location. Midtown East is very popular as an after work happy hour spot (and I figured Social Eatz would start to clean up in that department once they got their liquor license), but it’s not a destination area where many people go on weekends. I was happy – just meant an easier time for me in getting a table!

When I arrived, all of the staff was surprised to see me back. “Weren’t you just here?” was the refrain around the restaurant. However, I was rewarded for my loyal patronage by a visit from the star chef himself, Angelo Sosa! He came over to our table, chatted with us briefly, and thanked us for supporting his venture. How cool 🙂

But now, onto the food tasting – round two. For my appetizer, I decided on the soba noodles in a sweet ponzu sauce with snap peas and rock sugar. As you can imagine, it was very sweet – but in a really delicious and unexpected way.

One of my friends also went with a salad starter, choosing the “chop chop salad”, which seemed to be romaine, carrots, celery, dill, cilantro, an egg, and another very sweet but delicious sauce. Yum! Already our meal was off to an amazing start.

For our entrees, I chose the chicken corn and coconut tacos, which were filled with the aforementioned ingredients plus red onion, avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, lime, and cumin.

I thought they were even better than the beef tacos the night before! One of my friends got the bulgogi burger and the other had the bibimbap burger, both of which they said were delicious. Three for three tonight!

To round out the meal, we decided to try the yuzu cream puffs – a perfect choice since there were three of them and three of us. While we had initially debated whether or not to splurge on dessert, after tasting them, we were so glad we did. The outside was sugar crusted, like a cider donut, but the tartness of the yuzu made it incredibly balanced and really not too sweet at all. Perfection in a little mini donut bubble! I would go back for those alone.

Just before leaving, we decided to play ultimate fangirls and ask Angelo for a photo.

Overall, I was decently happy with the restaurant, but it doesn’t even come close to being as good as Xie Xie used to be. However, Angelo let me in on a little secret – there will be a new incarnation of Xie Xie coming soon, and it will indeed have my favorite dessert, the Thousand Year Old Egg Ice Cream Sandwich! (Two chocolate cookies, ice cream in the middle, and a gooey chocolate center). I can’t wait for that to come along 🙂

However, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Social Eatz regularly – it would be a great place to grab a bite if I worked in the area, but it’s not really a destination spot. If I do end up in the area, I may stop back once they get their liquor license – I’m a sucker for unique cocktails, and would love to give Angelo’s a try. But in the meantime, I’ll hope for more news of this other new restaurant – and will certainly keep you all posted.


7 thoughts on “Top Chef Restaurant Review: Social Eatz, by Angelo Sosa”

  1. This place is 2 blocks from my apartment and after your review I am definitely looking forward to trying it! I love all the restaurants I’ve been to (prob 8 or so by now) on that strip of 53rd St! I am going to take your advice and maybe try a weekend dinner since Midtown East isn’t nearly as crowded as during the week! Let me know if you ever want to go back!

  2. Karen, they are probably going to think I’m NUTS if I go back right away 🙂 I’ll probably hold off until they get their liquor license. Though that will of course make the excursion much pricier…

  3. top chef is hands down my favorite tv show and the focal point of my Wednesday nights. i am planning to stalk top chef eateries during all of my upcoming travels (and in dc when mike’s place finally opens!)

  4. Every time I read about food + NYC, I just keep wanting to go there more and more ….

    Midtown East in Atlanta, where I live, is also a great food destination spot (and not just for Southern food!)

  5. Social Eatz sounds like exactly my kind of place! Reasonably priced but with adventurous food:) And your fangirl pic is adorable!! I would have done the same thing;)

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