What: Another Emerils extravaganza
Where: Near the convention center
Price Range: $$$ - $$$$+
Hours:11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 5:30 to 10:00 p.m.; to 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday
Reservations: Highly recommended. (407) 503-2467 or OpenTable.com
Located at the point where the Royal Pacific Resort meets the massive convention center attached to the hotel, Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop") is to Royal Pacific what Bice is to Portofino Bay, the signature restaurant for the hotel and a destination in its own right. And being an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, the cooking is as bold as the decor.
Guests arriving by boat from CityWalk pass through a carved wooden moon gate and cross an open patio to reach the restaurant. The dining area, carefully designed according to feng shui principles, is a riot of blue tile, orange glass chandeliers, pale beige bamboo and rattan and dark teak furniture. A long, narrow pool bedecked with lily pads runs down the middle with a chic and well-stocked bar at one end. The overall effect is at once vibrant and soothing. Unfortunately, the design has been spoiled somewhat by an ungainly curtain that's been installed as a partition for private parties.
Facing the entrance is an open kitchen and food bar that allows "interactive" experiences between chefs and diners. Tchoup Chop was destined to become instantly popular and the Lagasse touch has kept the place booked up well after the initial curiosity was satisfied. So if you plan to dine here, be on the safe side and book your dining reservation when you book your hotel room. Fortunately, the food lives up to the hype. Chef de Cuisine Gregory Richie has received raves from local food critics. The cuisine is inspired both by the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific and Asian cooking techniques, with the fresh seafood of the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby Atlantic playing a strong supporting role. But don't expect a re-run of Trader Vic's, which is the stereotype of a Polynesian restaurant, or even Emeril's over at CityWalk for that matter. Here the emphasis is on relatively straightforward preparation of superb ingredients. Get a burger for your kid and it will be made from the finest beef. The menu changes with admirable regularity as the chefs take advantage of the seasonal availability of fish and produce, so it's difficult to predict what will be available when you visit. However, a survey of past dishes will give you some idea and help whet your appetite. Rest assured that everything sampled here has ranged from excellent to life-altering.
Your meal begins with complimentary prawn chips with a tangy citrus dipping sauce. Appetizers ($6 to $13) might include Emeril's take on Shanghai dumplings, "kicked up" crab cake, or wasabi-cured lomi lomi salmon, all very good. Dinner soups and salads ($7 to $10) range from simple miso soups to elaborate salads with exotic dressings, and a limited menu of sushi rolls, nigiri, and sashimi ($6 to $13) is offered.
Entrees ($19 to $38) include innovative takes on filet mignon, short ribs, and salmon, which might be crusted with macadamia nuts and served with coconut purple sticky rice. The roasted duck breast with pastrami confit is exquisite, as are jumbo scallops on risotto with Thai-curry lobster sauce. Meats are often served over mashed potatoes laced with roasted garlic or wasabi paste. Desserts ($5 and up) also change too often to keep up with. Suffice it to say, they're all terrific. If the options are overwhelming, the four-course fixed-price dinner ($35; wine pairing $15 extra) will simplify your choices.
Sake ($60 to $99 the bottle) features in the culinary concept here, much as wine would in a fine French restaurant, with a small but choice selection of premium brands available. A tasting flight of sake samples is about $12. A more traditional wine list is also available.
At lunch, Tchoup Chop serves an abbreviated menu, with an emphasis on "build your own" noodle bowls and sushi bento boxes.
Tip: Tchoup Chop owns a small outdoor "tiki bar," which serves all the elaborate cocktails ($9 to $19) served inside. What is less well known is that you can order anything else on the menu here to be served outside. It makes for a fun blending of the elegant and the casual. The daily happy hour (5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) features full-sized appetizers, including ribs and sushi, for just $5, plus drinks as low as $2.50. It may be the best bargain in all Orlando.
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