Emeril's Tchoup Chop, the upscale Asian-Polynesian eatery at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, has undergone a transformation that includes a new chef de cuisine, general manager, updated menus and a minimally revamped interior.
Owned by chef Emeril Lagasse, Tchoup Chop is a stunning space with a tropical design. A serene pool runs along a portion of the restaurant. At one end of the expansive room is a bar with towering shelves. At the other end, turquoise tile covers the walls. It's a cavernous space that manages to offer intimacy and whimsy at the same time. On one recent visit half of the restaurant was partitioned off with curtains to accommodate a private party.
With the exception of new kitchen equipment, the restaurant looks much as it did when it opened in 2003.
By the way, Tchoup is pronounced "chop" and is short for Tchoupitoulas, the New Orleans street where Lagasse's first restaurant is located.
Chef Ryan Vargas is the new talent in the kitchen, which is why I decided it was time to revisit since our last review in 2009. With more than 20 years of experience in the culinary arts, Vargas clearly has the chops for Tchoup Chop. The Hawaii native spent about 13 years leading the kitchens at some of the island's top resorts, including the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton. Here in Florida he ran the kitchen at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach.
Tchoup Chop's revamped lunch and dinner menus now include a fresh cocktail menu and dishes prepared in a Japanese robata grill, a mega cooker that sears vegetables, meat and seafood at up to 1,000F. The result is juicy food with a wonderful caramelized char.
Guests receive a free appetizer of shrimp chips dusted with a fiery Japanese seven-spice blend and a thick, slightly sweet peanut dipping sauce. It prepared our palates for our spicy red dragon sushi ($14), a plump roll filled with peppery ahi tuna, panko-breaded shrimp, rich avocado and refreshing cucumber. The lively habanero mayo completed the plate.
Our grilled pork chop ($27) was served with Chinese broccoli, sultry mango salsa and Korean barbecue sauce. The meat was juicy and a nice medium-rare.
The citrus shoyu glazed salmon ($26) also did not disappoint. The wild-caught fish was full-flavored with a restrained sweetness.
If you like grilled vegetables, use the robata grill for your sides. We chose the asparagus ($6) with ponzu sauce. The char tamed the acidic finish of the green stalks, making them a good foil for both the pork and salmon.
For dessert the chocolate kamora cake ($10) with peanut butter mousse filling and banana Fosters sauce is good, but the Hawaiian-style doughnuts ($8) are over the top.
Service was polished and polite.
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Emeril's Tchoup Chop
¿¿¿(out of 4)
Where: 6300 Hollywood Way, at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando
When: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily, dinner 5-10 p.m. daily, happy hour 5-8 p.m. daily
How much: lunch $10-$20, dinner $10-$30