Professional critics write restaurant reviews after only one visit and I am certainly not a professional.  I guess it’s like the old cliché (or shampoo commercial) says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  But in some cases, I think a restaurant requires several visits to get a full picture of the place, the food, the people, the vibe, etc.  This, my friends, is one of those times.  Get ready for the saga of my multiple experiences with a little place called Social Eatz.

So, one day I was walking along 53rd Street on the East side and I saw a brand new restaurant bathed in yellow looking all shiny and welcoming.  I did not have time to stop and look at a menu or anything, but I remembered the name so that I could go back to my office and check out the website.  The name was a little weird – Social Eatz.  What the heck does that mean?  What kind of food does this place serve?   Leave it to the internet to help my find me answer.  I did a Google search and I found an article about the place.  It’s American food with an Asian twist and it’s chef/owner is Angelo Sosa.

Yes, ladies (and ladies), that Angelo Sosa.  Top Chef chef-testant eye candy and damn good chef extraordinaire.

Look at me, now look at the food, now look back to me. Don’t you wish your man looked and cooked like me? (Yes, I am happily married.)

Ok, I will admit I was not a huge fan of Angelo when he first appeared on Top Chef, but he certainly grew on me once it was clear what a good chef he was.  Plus he is quite handsome and that certainly gave him an advantage in my eyes 🙂  I squealed with delight at the notion that I could be eating at a Top Chef restaurant right by my office.  I felt like Padma!  I wanted to be the judge of Angelo’s culinary creations!  So I recruited a couple of friends and took a walk over to get some take-out and check out the place.

Don’t let the location dissuade you – it is next to a XXX video store.

The restaurant is set up with communal tables and there are seats at the bar for quick eating.  The bar appeared to be fully stocked, which would have appealed to me if it was not lunchtime on a workday.  We placed our order and waited a few minutes (probably about 15) for our take-out order to be complete.  One friend and I ordered the Bulgogi burger while the other friend ordered the tilapia taco and tomato curry soup.

What is bulgogi, you ask?  Well, according to Wikipedia, “Bulgogi literally means “fire meat” in Korean, which refers to the cooking technique—over an open flame—rather than the dish’s spiciness.”  Angelo’s version of Bulgogi comes in a burger with some Asian spices, cucumber kimchee and a Japanese mayo.

Anyway, back to the office to check out the goods!  No Angelo sighting.

My friend reported that the tilapia was delicious, but small.  Unfortunately, the soup we paid for was not in our bag.  STRIKE 1, since my friend was starving after the taco and had to go buy something else to supplement her lunch.  Yes, we could have called and mentioned the missing soup, but it was not worth it to walk back there to get it.

The bulgogi burger, on the other hand, was divine.  I’m not a big fan of things with mayo, but the combo of the deliciously seasoned meat, the cucumber and the mayo was awe-inspiring.  It came with a side of seasoned fries which were ok, but the burger was definitely the star.

Tiny but tasty tilapia taco

Ah, the Bulgogi!

Seasoned so-so fries

Fast  forward to a week later . . . I was running some errands and decided to take a trip to Social Eatz for more take-out.  I kept reading rave reviews online about the Kung Pao Chicken sandwich.  I’ve had Kung Pao chicken as a dish in Chinese restaurants but never in a sandwich so I was curious to try it.

Kung pao! That was so good I forgot to take a photo before I inhaled it!

The place was jammed backed with diners and folks waiting for take-out but I put in my order anyway.  And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I waited over 30 minutes to get my sandwich.  STRIKE 2. A friend of mine walked in after me and was sitting eating her lunch with a friend in much quicker time.  I was sitting off to the side by the door famished while I saw her chewing away on the very same Kung Pao chicken sandwich I was waiting for!  I spoke to the “front of the house” guy (a term I learned from Top Chef) and he assured me several times that my order was on the way.  I was pissed because I had to get back to work and I told him it was pretty sucky that I was waiting so long.  Some other guy ordered online and still waited an hour for his take-out order!  I know the place is new, but this borders on unacceptable.  When my food finally came out, the “front of the house” guy offered to refund me.  I refused, but he insisted so he gave me my money back and off I went back to the office thoroughly annoyed with my experience.  No Angelo sighting.

But then I ate the sandwich and it was beyond amazing.  The chicken was cooked perfectly, the bread was not too hard and the sauce was not too peanutty. Damn it – what do I do now?  Do I keep going to Social Eatz when I am dissatisfied with the service?  Or do I give Angelo a break, accept his new restaurant’s growing pains and continue to be a patron?  I was very torn . . .

So many possible captions for this one - but I will refrain. Remember - happily married!

And then I decided to go back!  I had not actually eaten in the restaurant so I took a colleague for lunch to give it one more try.  I will admit I was looking for a strike 3, so that I could write off Angelo and his mismanaged restaurant forever.  However, the dining experience in the restaurant was much more enjoyable than my take-out experiences.  My colleague ordered the Bulgogi burger and I decided to have the Imperialist Hot Dog, which is an organic chicken hot dog with relish and a cheese sauce on the side.  I am no fan of cheese, much less a cheese sauce, but it comes on the side so I was ok with looking at it but not actually eating it.  The hot dog was awesome.  We also split an app of spring rolls which were also pretty tasty.

At this point in our meal, we had a visitor to our table . . . Angelo, is that you???  No, it was “front of the house” guy (I apologize, I never asked for his name so I do not know what else to call him).  He came over to check on me since he remembered me from my last visit there.  He apologized for the confusion on my slow take-out order and said he was so happy to see Angelo had not lost me as a customer.  That was so nice of him to remember me.  I am a sucker for things like that.  What sealed the deal on this visit though, was the complimentary dessert we received!!  Very unexpected and very nice!  We had a caramel toffee brownie with some homemade spiced rice milk on the side.  Delicious and a great end to a great meal!  Social Eatz, I like you again!  I really like you!

As I sat at my desk after lunch pondering my delicious lunch, I looked down and noticed that a very expensive and very sentimental bracelet from my husband was missing from my left wrist.  And then the panic set in!  I’ve lost this same bracelet before (curse you, automatic-flush office toilet!) and my husband was BEYOND understanding and bought me another identical bracelet.  If I lost another bracelet, I was toast!  I waited for my husband to get home to break the news to him and asked him to check and see if I’ve forgotten to put the bracelet on that day before i left home.  No luck.  Looked all around my office.  No luck.  Checked with every security guard in my office building.  No luck.  Called Starbucks where I get my morning coffee.  No luck.  As a last resort, I called Social Eatz to see if anyone had turned in my bracelet.  Mind you, it’s now like 9pm and I was there at 1pm so I did not have high hopes for a reunion.  The girl who answered the phone said no one had turned in a bracelet, but she took my cell number just in case it turned up.  I reluctantly went home feeling defeated and down in the dumps and just plain miserable.  Oh well . . .

Fast forward to 10:30 the next morning when my cell rings – and it’s Social Eatz!  They found my bracelet!  I could not believe it!  I ran there as fast as I could and lo and behold who is there to give my beloved bracelet back to me?  Angelo? No, “front of the house” guy!!!  I almost hugged him.  I almost cried.  I was in shock that people would be so honest to actually return a lost item.  Living in New York makes you a little jaded on humanity I guess.

If there was any doubt at all, that doubt is gone.  I LOVE YOU Social Eatz.  You’ve won me over heart, soul and stomach.  Angelo, you make fantastic food, your service and hospitality is improving and you hire great people to represent you at your restaurant.  You are duh, WINNING!  Even if you did not actually win Top Chef, or Top Chef All Stars, I love you anyway. 🙂

I do have a Groupon for Social Eatz that I plan to use soon.  But when will Angelo and I finally meet in person?  I’m still waiting!