Since it opened with Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel in 2001, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop has established itself as one of the best upscale eateries at Universal Orlando Resort. To kick off 2014, my favorite happy hour hangout has shaken things up in a serious way, with a new chef, new front-of-house management, new flavors, and a new high-tech tool in the kitchen. We’ll be returning in the future for a fully detailed review of Tchoup Chop’s new menu choices, but for now here’s a small taste to whet your appetite.
New chef de cuisine Ryan Vargas (a veteran of Four Seasons and Ritz Carltons in Hawaii and Palm Beach) came on board in October, but only recently introduced his completely revamped menu. The emphasis is still on “Asian-inspired island cuisine”, but there are a variety of new appetizers and entrees, an expanded sushi selection, and a brand-new specialty cocktail list.
The centerpiece of the refreshed menu is the Robata grill, a “traditional Japanese grill that sears meat, seafood and vegetables at up to 1,000° F, allowing dishes to maintain their natural juices and flavor.” Tchop Chop’s Robata is reported one of only two in the area, and after sampling its results I’m sure to return for more.
We tried three of the Robata menu’s small plate selections, which were beautifully presented on a single platter.
Califlower ($4) was a smallish portion, but the char brought out the vegetable’s natural flavor nicely, and the accompanying curry sauce had a spicy kick.
The Japanese eggplant was elaborately carved like an edible piece of art, and the blackened skin paired perfectly with a chili mint sauce, but I didn’t particularly care for the wet, mushy interior.
Pork belly, served with tamari chile vinegar, was far and away the star of the show. The unctuous fat was blackend to an umami-filled ash on the outside, and gorgeously gelatinous underneath. Even if every other item on Tchoup Chop’s menu was abysmal (hint: they aren’t), this perfect piece of pig would be worth the trip all by itself. At $8, I didn’t feel feel the price was too outrageous, especially if you compare the quality and quantity to the tapas offerings at Epcot’s new Spice Road Table.
Finally, for those who are frightened by change — fear not! The fabulous daily happy hour (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) still offers $5 full-sized appetizers, including the addictive kiawe baby back ribs. I’ll see you at the bar!