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Where to eat: Dinner at Emeril's Tchoup Chop at Universal Orlando's Royal Pacific Resort

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Published: June 26, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Emeril Lagasse is well known for his steaks and New Orleans-style cuisine. He's had a restaurant at Universal Orlando's City Walk for years, but few probably know that he also has a restaurant in the Royal Pacific Resort with a distinctive Asian theme. It fits perfectly with the hotel's theme, and offers a more upscale experience expected with the Emeril name. I was in Orlando on business, and decided to treat myself to a nice dinner, and reserved a table for one. For guests coming from off-site, valet parking is available at the Royal Pacific Hotel for $5. Guests that spent the day at Universal Orlando or City Walk and parked in one of the massive parking garages can reach the Royal Pacific Hotel by boat at the dock near the NASCAR Café or just walk down the long path that can be accessed near Margaritaville. The entrance is just up the ramp from the Royal Pacific boat dock and near the main pool.

As with most hotel restaurants, the exterior of the restaurant blends in with the design of the hotel, and is identified by a unique sign.

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The interior of the restaurant features a three-story-tall space with a massive iron-clad chandelier above a pond/fountain filled with lily pads and other aquatic plants. The restaurant features a semi-open kitchen, but no seats are situated directly adjacent to the action. Aside from the pond, the décor in general is simple and understated, perhaps to draw the guest's attention to the food that is about to enliven their palate.

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The menu features a variety of Asian cuisines including Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. There are even some traditional American dishes that have been given the obligatory Asian spin. I was immediately drawn to the Chef's Tasting Menu that included a number of dishes that really piqued my interest. The menu noted that full table participation in the Chef's Tasting Menu was recommended, so after some debate with myself, I chose to try out the four-course meal.

To start off, all tables are brought a serving of shrimp chips and peanut sauce. The chips look a little like flattened Styrofoam peanuts, but have a subtle taste and interesting texture. The sauce served with the chips was very good with a good balance of heat and sweetness. My only issue with the presentation was that the bowl containing the dipping sauce was very narrow, and required you to either bite the chip or break it in half to actually dip it in the sauce. Perhaps if the sauce were served in a wide bowl/saucer or if the chips were formed into strips instead of rounds, it would correct this minor oversight.

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My first course of the evening was poached ginger crabmeat ravioli. I love ravioli, particularly special or daily offerings that you know are made fresh that day instead of frozen days in advance. This ravioli was well executed, but probably could have been stuffed with just a little more filling. The buttery sweetness of the crab was not overpowered by the green curry sauce, and the crunchy cashews provided some extra textural intrigue.

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The second course of the menu featured pan roasted salmon with white asparagus and sweet corn relish topped with Asian-style chimichurri, soybean cream sauce, and crispy lotus root. The portion of salmon was a little underwhelming, but determined appropriate by the time I reached the end of the meal, and the crispy lotus root was interesting to look at on the plate, but provided little to the overall taste of the dish. For me, the highlight of this dish was the relish that I would classify more as a slaw. The sweet corn and white asparagus were nice and crispy with a light, refreshing flavor that perfectly complimented the seared fish. The fish itself was cooked perfectly with nice caramelization and the bitterness of the chimichurri balanced the sweetness of the relish well. Perhaps it was my devouring of the shrimp chips and peanut sauce, but both the soybean cream sauce on this dish and the green curry sauce on the previous course both had strong hints of peanut sauce, and seemed very similar. The peanut sauce served with the chips was rather thick, so perhaps it was coating my palate and masking the subtle flavors within the sauces.

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The third course was a grilled filet mignon served with sausage-herb roasted potato hash, baby vegetables, and topped with an olive compound butter and Emeril's housemade Worcestershire sauce. As you would expect, the steak was perfectly cooked to my desired temperature (medium rare) with a really good sear on the exterior. At first glance, the steak appeared overcooked based on the amount of sear, but had a warm red center, and was tender and juicy. The vegetables (baby asparagus and baby carrots) were crisp and nicely seasoned, and the potato hash was simply amazing. Not only did the hash include a nice combination of herbs, onions, and garlic, but it also contained diced pieces of sausage that almost made it the highlight of the plate over the steak, a difficult task with a perfectly cooked, prime cut of filet. The compound butter on top was scrumptious, but the Worcestershire sauce was a bit sweet for me. I'm a Lea & Perrins guy, and this Worcestershire sauce bordered on the French's side of the spectrum of being overly sweet and thin. However, much of that sauce got soaked up by the hash, and did a fine job of toning down the saltiness of the sausage and potatoes.

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The final course was lemongrass ginger ice cream served with pineapple salsa and a coconut macaroon. This was a perfect ending to a multi-course meal. The subtle flavors of the ice cream played well with the sweet pineapple to provide a nice cool-down for my hard-working palate. Cakes and pies at the end of tasting menus can often be too much, so it was nice to see the chef offering a dessert that takes into account that the diner's palate needs a bit of a break. The ice cream was almost of a sorbet texture, but I didn't mind with the generous helping of fresh whipped cream on top.

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I was very impressed with the offerings of Emeril's Tchoup Chop, and enjoyed the selections presented on the Chef's Tasting Menu (which also offers a parallel wine pairing for an addition charge, which I declined). The menu prices were on par with other "signature" dining experiences in Orlando, with my Chef's Tasting Menu priced at $60/person. Entrees on the menu are in the $15-$40 range, so a couple could probably dine for just under $100 with shared appetizers and desserts. The setting of the restaurant is stunning, and the grounds of the Royal Pacific Hotel offer a beautiful setting to take a post-dinner stroll or even a pre-dinner walk. (I managed to catch the fire dancer performance near the pool just before my reservation.) The restaurant itself is a little off the beaten path, but is well worth the detour away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy CityWalk. For guests looking for a high quality, upscale Asian-style dining option while at the Universal Orlando Resort, Emeril's Tchoup Chop might be the perfect fit.

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Readers' Opinions

From Melanie Howe on June 26, 2013 at 5:31 PM
I've had the pleasure of eating at Tchoup Chop twice. I have to confess that I found it a bit overpriced to visit too often and the food was too "frou-frou" for my husband's taste. But it is also one of the most beautiful dining atmospheres I've ever been in. The whole place is gorgeous. If you're looking to splurge on a meal, it's worth visiting just for the decor alone :-).
From Anon Mouse on June 27, 2013 at 8:26 AM
How do you pronounce "Tchoup"? Weird name for a restaurant.

The dishes sound like American/Italian with an Asian spin (mostly Thai). Its fusion food. Sounds like a place to visit if I want to celebrate something and not for regular attendance. Too pricey for me.

From Robert Niles on June 27, 2013 at 10:52 AM
It's just pronounced "Chop Chop," I believe.
From Eric G on June 27, 2013 at 1:03 PM
I'm also going to have to disagree. The atmosphere is nice, but the food, and especially the sushi is not good. I would not recommend this restaurant to anyone.

If you're looking for sushi go upstairs and eat at the Orchid Court Sushi Bar & Lounge. If you want a steak then go to The Palm at the Hard Rock Hotel. Those are much better options than Emeril's.

From Tony Duda on June 27, 2013 at 5:00 PM
The name is a New Orleans thing, based on Tchoupitoulas Street. Pronounced Chop-a-two-las.
From Russell Meyer on June 27, 2013 at 7:22 PM
I cannot verify the quality of the sushi, and typically would not recommend sushi at a restaurant that does not have an actual sushi bar. Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop") does not have a very extensive sushi (only three items on the menu, and only one with actual fish in it), so I would not recommend it for sushi. Most restaurants with good sushi have a full page of items and will also offer sashimi.

Yes, the menu is a bit pricey, but compared to other higher end restaurants at Universal and Disney, the prices are pretty competitive.

From Eric G on June 27, 2013 at 7:41 PM
When I lasted visited the bar menu had an extensive sushi menu. In fact, the individual who recommended the place suggested I go for the sushi. I've dined there twice now and I wouldn't go back.

If you want to try one of this outstanding restaurants then go to the Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian in Las Vegas. It's superb.

From Russell Meyer on June 28, 2013 at 7:26 AM
I don't quite get it Eric....You complain about the sushi at a restaurant that doesn't even have a sushi bar and then you say you'd rather eat at a steak restaurant nearly 2,000 miles away in Las Vegas.

As I said, I would NEVER recommend any person to order sushi from a restaurant where you cannot see it being prepared. However, I would recommend Tchoup Chop to Orlando visitors looking for an interesting, albeit pricey, asian fusion restaurant.

I have not eaten at Delmonico's in Las Vegas, but I have at Prime at the Belagio, and that is quite a restaurant. But comparing restaurants in Las Vegas to those in Orlando is like comparing Disney and Universal attractions to those at a local amusement park. The food scene in Vegas is extremely competetive and features some of the biggest names in the culinary world from Bobby Flay to Gordon Ramsay to Tom Collichio and many many more. Las Vegas is the Orlando of restaurants, so I think you're making an extremely unfair criticism.

Tchoup Chop should be compared to other themed resort restaurants and asian-fusion restaurants in Orlando. Considering there's not really a lot of choice in the asian fusion category (I think it's easily better than the over-commercialized and heavy handedness of P.F. Chang's), Tchoup Chop stands alone. However, if I were to compare to other high-end "signature-style" theme park dining options, it is average to slightly above. I actually dined at WDW's Artist Point at Wildnerness Lodge the following night, and was blown away with what they offered, which was even more pricey than Emeril's.

Perhaps your friend steered you wrong to try the sushi here, but as an asian fusion restuarant, Tchoup Chop is worth a try even though it's off the beaten path.

From 166.147.88.21 on June 28, 2013 at 9:50 AM
Emeril's Tchoup Tchoup was the best dining experience my husband and I had in Universal. We came to the theme parks for our first anniversary and stayed at royal pacific and everything was great. The restaurant staff were very friendly..my husband made a reservation earlier that day and they asked if we were celebrating anything and he told them it's our first wedding anniversary and they made it very special for us! We were given a free appetizer which was like a gourmet goat cheese, not the best cheese I've ever had but it was decent and we also received a free dessert which was yummy coconut sorbet the chefs make in the restaurant and they spelled out "happy anniversary!" On the plate in chocolate sauce!! The main entree I had was also out of this world, which was the mini coconut Siracha pancakes with green papaya and chicken in a honey and white truffle nectar sauce!! The next day was our last day in Orlando before we had to go back home and my husband told me to stay in the room and that he was coming back with a surprise for me and when he returned he had a bag with him...he opened it up and there was dessert from Emeril's Tchoup Tchoup! He got more of the coconut sorbet and one of their peanut butter bananas foster chocolate cakes, though that may sound like a weird combination it was heaven! We plan to come back next year it was an amazing way to end an unforgettable vacation!
From Eric Fisher on June 29, 2013 at 3:22 PM
$35 to $40 for a meal my wife can make? Sorry - no time soon.
From Seth Kubersky on June 30, 2013 at 11:03 AM
FYI valet parking at RPR is free if you have an AP or eat at the restaurant. And the daily happy hour ($5 apps and drinks) is the best deal on property.
From Alfonso Giordano on June 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM
I've eaten there once with a friend a few months after it opened. We sat at the counter overlooking the kitchen. Unfortunately I'm allergic to seafood and fish, so I couldn't eat the "styrofoam" chips or amuse-bouche. I remember ordering some kind of sampler of the short ribs with other items (it doesn't appear to be on the menu now) and I had a salad as well. Banana pie for dessert. Everything was delicious. It was neat to see the chef's working the kitchen. I probably wouldn't choose to eat there again because of my allergy, but I would go with others. I've eaten at Emeril's in citywalk a few times, at the bar. I also agree with Eric, If you're comparing Emeril's restaurants then I recommend Emeril's Delmonico if you are in Vegas, that was the best meal I've ever had!

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