232 East 53rd Street (map); 212-207-3339; socialeatz.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Some of the most successful fusion burgers we've had.
Want Fries With That? If you're desperate. Blond and greasy, with a broken cheese sauce for dipping
Price: Burgers, $9 to $12; fries, $4.50
Even once you get past the silly name, there's a lot of things wrong with Social Eatz, Top Chef finalist Angelo Sosa's new midtown snack bar. The interior feels like an East Village bar designed by Chuck E. Cheese. They claim that they want to build an electronic community for foodies who want to interact with them, yet their website lists three email addresses, none of which actually work. Their planned-by-committee menu reads about as soulful as the Cheesecake Factory, and most of the food is just a few steps above your average shopping mall food court.
So what saves Social Eatz from total failure? The burgers, that'z what.
Asian fusion burgers are generally a bad idea—the notion gets in the way of the execution, and what you end up with is something that's more of concept than a real burger (the same could be said for Social Eatz as a whole). But Sosa surprised us with the intelligently conceived, and more importantly, well-executed burgers on the menu here.
The Social Burger ($9, $10 with cheese) is their classic cheeseburger, and it's pretty awesome. A griddled patty of loosely ground, insanely juicy beef (it's a whopping 30 percent fat!) with plenty of salt and pepper on a toasted potato roll with shredded lettuce and onions, and their house "longevity" sauce—essentially an In-N-Out-style Thousand Island spread. It's a perfectly proportioned burger. Crisp, cool lettuce, gooey cheese, rich sauce, huge beef flavor, and a sweet, toasted potato roll, this is definitely a strong contender for best midrange burger in the city. Perfectly seared, perfectly juicy.
Their signature burger, the Bibimbap Burger, ($12) was the weaker of the two fusion burgers we tried. It's the same beef patty coated with a sweet and savory sauce on the griddle that gets seared into its surface, topped with a sesame oil-scented slaw of zucchini and carrot, a slow-cooked egg, and a big squirt of creamy mayo-based sauce. There's a lot going on here, and most of it works, though we would have preferred if our slow-cooked egg were actually runny instead of pretty much hard boiled.
The best of the lot was the Hanoi Burger ($10, pictured at top), a flavor powerhouse that hits all the right notes. A big spoonful of sweet, oniony relish tops it along with a chili-laced mayo, but underneath is where the real action lies: A cool, complex salad of cucumber, onions, and mint that threatens to overwhelm on the menu, but works remarkably well when you taste it. This is the one I'd come back for.
As for the fries and sides, they're entirely skippable. Each burger comes with a small dish of house-made pickled vegetables—mostly radishes and carrots—that don't taste all that pickled. Fries are an extra $4.50, and are fine, but not worth the price, with an odd sake-and-cheddar concoction that barely qualifies as a cheese sauce: broken and grainy.
As for the rest of the menu, there were a few highlights here and there (full review coming tonight), but honestly, spend your money on the burgers instead.
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