The Touring Plans crew recently had the chance to try out Emeril’s Tchoup Chop as a group, and as a result, I have plenty of great food to write about for you all! Disclaimer: I don’t normally try this many items on the menu in one sitting, but in the nature of the meal, we all agreed to order a large amount of food, allowing everyone to share and try it all—really a great way to broaden your culinary horizons if you are up for challenge.
One of two restaurants belonging to Emeril Lagasse at the Universal Orlando Resort, I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about this establishment for years, but had never worked out of my comfort zone that I’d mentioned previously of go-to restaurants on property to make my way over to the Loews Royal Pacific Resort to check it out… And I’m glad I waited, because I now know I couldn’t have appreciated this restaurant nearly as much as I do now—especially with my ability to try so much in one sitting (see the menu)!
Instead of the standard breads and spreads that serve as a pre-appetizer starter, we were greeted with tall cones filled with “shrimp chips,” delicious shrimp-flavored crackers that are first steamed then dehydrated to give the unique Styrofoam texture they sport. Served with a mild take on spicy mayo, the common note from everyone that the table was that the sauce was so tasty, it could be used on just about anything else. And there were no chips left by the time we were finished ordering.
We started out our meal with a large selection of appetizers… The Spicy Tuna Roll came out first; a decent-sized serving of fresh sushi that tasted exactly how you’d expect. I’m typically a skeptic about ordering sushi at a restaurant that isn’t necessarily known for it but the roll was satisfactory as it could possibly be—I’d recommend forgoing this one in favor of one of the more unique appetizers if you aren’t specifically craving sushi. Next up was the Tchoup Chop Crunchy Shrimp served with a Hot & Sour Chile Glaze. The shrimp was crunchy as advertised and tasted fine, but only one of us picked this as their favorite appetizer. An order of the appetizer crab cakes produced a duo of meatball-sized panko-crusted orbs accompanied by a light arugula salad. The starter was flavorful with a large concentration of crab meet and a tasteful balance of stuffing to fill. The Pan Seared Jumbo Lump Crab Potsticker had our audience divided with its vinegary Toasted Garlic Soy Jus. Those of us with a feel for seafood with that strong “seafoody taste” were really happy with the dish, but others in the group found the crab too “fishy” for their preferences to have more. For me, it was one of the more unique items I’d tasted, and one of my favorites of the appetizer selections.
The Steamed Pork & Asian Vegetable Dumplings were especially tasty with a hearty filling and a perfectly paired Sake-Soy dipping sauce that brought out some of the more savory flavors beneath the dough. A trio of stuffed mushroom caps had the mushroom lovers at the table taking more than one bite—the stuffing proved to be moist but held together amidst our many cuts, an indicator of a good deal of breading—something I always look for in a good mushroom cap. The Kiawe Smoked Baby Back Ribs were coated in an Asian barbecue sauce that to me was most reminiscent of a hoisin sauce. The serving size for this appetizer was most impressive with every person at the table able to have at least one full rib with a few left over to claim for seconds—a great value for the $9 asking price.
A clear winner across the table was the Mongolian Glazed Slow Roasted Pork Belly served in Chinese style steamed buns with a spicy Napa slaw. Perfectly balanced in every way, the buns were soft and doughy as they should be. The pork belly tasted fantastic and the spice of the slaw blended beautifully into the overall sandwich. The serving size is two whole buns, so consider putting in a few orders if you have more than two people that aren’t looking to cut the buns in half—these will disappear from the plate fast and at least leave you contemplating ordering more. They were just that fantastic!
Moving into Entrée territory, we once again went all out… The Basil Seared Atlantic Salmon Filet was a good sized serving of the well-cooked fish accompanied by roasted purple potatoes (sadly no Figment blue potatoes here) with a corn and crab chardonnay reduction sauce. While not initially head over heels for the Salmon, the ensemble dish grew on me when I forked a flake of the meat with a healthy dip of the thick white reduction—my outlook on the dish changed immediately! The sauce is the champion of the plate and makes everything else presented go from good tasting to great!
The Hot Iron Seared Yellowfin Tuna Steak was served with a Thai sticky rice (a thinner, sharper rice grain from what I could discern) and Smoked Bacon-Wasabi Butter Infusion. I didn’t get any of the smoked bacon from the infusion, but the wasabi butter gave the dish a good bite that when hit the right way would send a flare through the sinuses as most good wasabis do. The tuna itself was fine—on par at best, but no one of us seemed overly thrilled with it to the point that anyone was scrambling to finish it. This one ranked towards the lower end of our list, not because it was unsatisfactory, simply because it was outranked by its more extraordinary competition that filled the rest of the table.
The Garlic Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp on Chinese style noodle cake and lemongrass infused wild mushroom crema was unique in that almost everyone preferred the accompaniment to the protein plated. The large prawns, served on a tiered set of skewers tasted like shrimp as they should, but they had no extraordinary flavor profiles that had anyone raving. The noodles on the other hand were finished quite quickly with the crema giving the side a savory element that seemed to thrill our palates.
The Cilantro-Cashew Pesto Marinated Tofu was tried almost out of default to find out if Tchoup Chop had found a way to give the hard-to-work-with protein an extraordinary flavor. Sadly this one didn’t surprise us with the tofu lacking the promised marinated profiles advertised. If you are a fan of tofu or rely on that as your go-to protein when eating out, you may find this one satisfactory (though not exemplary) but for a table full of meat eaters and seafood lovers, this one seemed to fall flat for our crowd.
The meats turned out to win the entrée category for us all with the Banana Leaf Wrapped Roast Pork Shoulder standing out as a clear winner. Served with taro root, sweet potato and baby Bok Choy, our table gobbled this tender dish up quickly. The portion size is hearty and wholly satisfying and you’ll definitely want more when it is gone. The Tender Sake Braised Beef Short Ribs also were a cut above with the caramelized onion mashed potatoes served with a burgundy veal reduction sauce. Exquisite to say the least, this plate was finished clean well before we were done. The last dish was the Tamarind Grilled Angus Beef Tenderloin, which tied with the Pork Shoulder for favorite dish of the night.
Closing out our culinary journey with desserts, we continued our adventurous streak by ordering a variety of options to end our meal on multiple sweet notes. The Chocolate Kahlua Cake was truly indulgent, served with a thick whipped cream topped with a chocolate straw and edible flower. The Crispy Guava & Cream Cheese Dumplings had me intrigued, as I’ve made homemade cheesecake potstickers before and was curious to see if the restaurant treatment would make better this recipe. Sure enough the dish was less cheesecake-ish and more like the dumplings advertised with an emphasis more on the guava than on the cream cheese. Guava lovers will enjoy this one profusely, but those with an aversion to the fruit best stay away. A warm apple strudel was another choice mandated by the majority of the table that turned out to be a hit! The light and flaky pastry surrounding the perfectly cooked apples were a clear win for everyone at the table, including myself, despite my typical hesitation to enjoy any particular kind of cooked fruit.
The Chef’s Featured Crème Brûlée came in the form of a trio of perfect vanilla mini-brûlées, and I mean PERFECT. This was quite possibly one of the best crème brûlées I’ve ever had and the sentiment appeared to echo around the table.
The final item and the absolute shocker of the evening was Emeril’s Signature Banana Cream Pie. Now I’ll be honest. I hate banana—the taste, the smell; everything about it turns me off of food that it is included in. But everyone at the table urged me to try it, and I can now say that I am glad that I did. While this dish didn’t make me a fan of the fruit itself, the flavor profiles of the dessert were stunningly delicious, despite the heavy tone of the banana itself. Light in texture and very creamy, this pie was an absolute success in every way for our group, turning even the naysayers (I wasn’t alone) around to grab a few more bites. That is dessert gusto if I’ve ever experienced it!
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop sits happily embedded in the beautiful Royal Pacific Hotel but somehow manages to outshine its host resort’s beauty with an even greater interior. Dramatic lighting, tiled/stained glass, high ceilings and modern furnishings envelope you in a peaceful setting that is charming and serene all at once. In the center of the main dining space is an overflowing pool complete with lily pads and pacific stones, adding another calm element to the themed environ.
So as I wrap up this lengthy review, I reflect upon the total experience Emeril’s Tchoup Chop offered us. While there were a few on-par items and one underwhelming one, there were some clear standouts to be had! The restaurant has a great ambiance to it, coupled with a strong menu of items, some of which change seasonally—one more reason to come back again! I was totally blown away by the overall quality of our gigantic meal and the restaurant has certainly earned the high praise it has received for years and I’m now one of those that will have to recommend it to others! I’m eager to return to Tchoup Chop in the near future, in the least to get some more of that amazing Roast Pork Shoulder!