Any restaurant that substitutes a ‘Z’ for an ‘S’ in its name and on its menu would normally have me very worried – images of painfully mediocre cuisine and trashtastic crowds flash immediately through my mind – however, Social Eatz, the new ‘Asian-American bar’ opened by Top Chef favorite Angelo Sosa seems to defy my admittedly low expectations. In fact, the ‘z’ on Eatz is almost endearing, knowing that it came from the irresistably bizarre mind of chef-owner Angelo. Nonetheless, as you would expect, Social Eatz is a strange place. It ventures half-way to kitschy Japanese anime karaoke lounge, yet stops just short and collides with a classic American sports bar.
Why Angelo is so into Midtown, I will always wonder (his last restaurant was in Hell’s Kitchen). The Social Eatz location is strange for a trendy restaurant. Situated half a block from the infamous Turtle Bay ‘frat row’ on 2nd Avenue in the 50s, the location speaks to the target audience: young people with modern multicultural tastes, a love of beer, and not too much cash in the wallet. More bar than restaurant, the narrow and cramped space is oddly designed. Orange lacquer-top tables with orange lacquer-top benches are crowded up against one wall, while the other wall is taken up with an orange lacquer-top bar, slightly raised above the tables. The bar is designed such that people may eat or drink there, in normal dining height swivel chairs. Apparently, there is also a downstairs dining area, which I neither saw nor heard any evidence of, despite the packed-in crowd on a Wednesday night. Everything at Social Eatz is brown and orange and kitschy, with a definite Japanese cartoon-y flair.
While the actual atmosphere may take some getting used to, the food is indisputably good. The menu is Asian-American fusion, featuring sports bar favorites like burgers and fries, tacos, hot dogs, wings, and ribs all-dressed-up in Asian flavors. The house specialty, ordered bravely by my friend Emily, is a ‘Bibimbap Burger.” The winner of some national burger award (alerted to us by our waitress), the Bibimbap Burger is one serious burger: a thick and bloody-red patty of ground beef, topped with a perfectly-executed sunny-side-up egg, and covered in a mess of pickled carrot and cucumber. It is simultaneously hefty and refreshing – if that’s conceivably possible. Other burgers impress as well. For the sake of variety, my friend Amanda ordered the Bulgolgi Burger, another Korean-inspired dish. The beef patty is heavily charred, then topped with cooling cucumber kimchee, kewpee and Japanese mayo, and then sauced with a blend of soy sauce, scallions, garlic, and sesame oil (my favorite!). It’s intensely flavorful, though disappointingly “thin” for a burger – every now and then you just want a big hunk of meat to bite into! Other than burgers, Social Eatz delivers an array of bold and flavorful dishes. I loved the chicken, corn & coconut tacos, served on warm soft tortillas, and the side of fries, offered crispy and thin with an addictive spicy cheese dip.
Although after much mulling I still do not understand in the least Angelo Sosa’s ‘vision’ for Social Eatz being “a social experience” both in the restaurant and out of it (huh?!), it is clear that the focus here is on interesting and well-executed flavors. The food is the kind of stuff you want to eat after a long day at work or while watching baseball or with a cold draft Pilsner – and it’s all presented with an interesting and delicious Asian twist. Bear in mind though, Social Eatz is a youthful spot and those of a more traditional generation could very easily feel like a fish out of water here, with the bordering on too loud buzz, cramped tables, Asian anime feel, and bar-restaurant hybrid concept.
Perfect For: Angelo sightings, burger fans, midtown east happy hours, catching the game with some serious eats