As I begin to relay my experience, the intoxicating flavors of Hibachi Skirt Steak are still in my nostrils. Rich, sweet, ginger, soy, garlic, sugar, tender, cow meat still wafting around. I am tempted to go back for another piece of steak, but the first one has not even digested properly. Is this what being a junkie feels like?
Have you tried Mocktails? There are the equivalent of cocktails without the alcohol. More like liquid culinary delights in a glass.
These libations are made from fresh squeezed juices. What a healthy treat.
Mon Choff Riesling– is a generous bouquet of sweet citrus and exotic fruits, creamy on the palate with a crisp lingering finish. I also had a glass of Picket Fence Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley which was very fruit forward with cherry and blackberry, silky smooth with a spicy finish. Sorry, I was too into the Steak and forgot to take a picture. The wine list in this restaurant is enormous. I am told that they are in the process of revision.
Let me dip right into the Maki.
Lava-Deep fried roll, topped with scallops, mayo and masago. A gorgeous starter, with ample crunch and creamy topping. Ample bite size to open the palate.
Sushi Sampler-What a way to start the evening. These were hand picked by Chef for our sampling.
Coconut Shrimp-Kani kama, cucumber, cream cheese, masago, lilikoi, kabayaki. Beautiful morsels of texture. The creamy Kani kama nicely compliments the crunchy shrimp. Can you spot the tiny yellow round bulb perched on top of the roll? In regualr sushi circles that would be and Ikura (Salmon Roe or Egg). Surprise, this is not! It is a passion fruit infused tapioca pearl, or bubba.
Aloha (Front)-Kalua pork, cucumber, ahi poke, lomi lomi salmon, poi vinaigrette. Is there anything that defines Hawaii better than Kalua pork? Only when it is topped with Ahi poke. Big flavors of Hawaii, Pork and Tuna. A smooth wind swept the room. The Aloha Spirit present.
Surf & Turf (Back)-Blue crab, cucumber, hibachi skirt steak, asian chimichurri, white truffle oil. Perfect representation of traditional Surf and Turf.
Hurricane-Spicy salmon, hamachi, cucumber, avocado, sichimi, sweet miso, bbq eel sauce. Creamy, buttery textures punctuated with cucumber crunch and sichimi kick only to be softened by bbq eel sauce. A true delight.
Spicy Red Dragon-Spicy tuna, panko shrimp, avocado, cucumber, habanero mayo. I appreciate the tuna being seasoned with sichimi powder rather than the proverbial sriracha sauce that many local restaurants use. The tuna was finely chopped rather than mincely shaved, which retains the firm texture and not present mush. I’d say a kicked up heat factor rounds out the complimenting textures.
Then came the flow of Robata prepared items. Robata grill is a Japanese cooking technique where heated charcoals are used as heat source. The flavors imparted are heavenly.
Cauliflower-curry mayonnaise. Firm texture, with creamy curry flavors.
Shishito Peppers-lime and sea salt. Just that hint of spiciness.
Flat Iron “Bulgogi”-Korean Bbq. Tender morsels of charred flavors, mingled with sweet spiciness of Korean flavors makes this a great dish.
Japanese Eggplant-chili mint sauce. This is easily scooped out of its skin for a very soft texture, add chili and mint, what an explosion. Add the skin for an earthier taste.
Pork Belly Tocino-Tamari chile vinegar. Hawaiians understand their pork. This piece of preciousness stands on its own with marvelous tenacity and charred glory. My personal taste had the sauce slightly on the vinegared side, but it did cut the fattiness rather nicely.
Yakitori Pineapple Chicken-Li Hing Mui spiced. A tenderized chicken melted with pineapple juices for a flavor only an island can generate.
Thai Spiced Lamb Satay-tamarind peanut glaze. Minced lamb with spices on a stick, oh my Hawaiian God, let there be more of this. Where have you been all my life?
Just when the palate was getting to the height of tantalization, the chef brings out these Composed Dishes.
Sesame Ahi Tuna-Quinoa tropical fruit tabouleh, wasabi ogo vinaigrette. Every restaurant these days have an “Ahi Tuna dish”. What sets this apart? The combination of flavors. First off this “bed’’ of quinoa shouldn’t be called bed. It is too healthy to lie on, this should be like a “get up and jump around”. Light, airy, fluffy combined with that hint of spiciness from the wasabi and nuttiness from the sesame, it takes the tuna to levels that might even surprise the tuna. A marvelously composed dish.
Hibachi Skirt Steak-Okinawan purple smashed potatoes, wild mushroom “poke” asian chimichurri. Just when I thought, I was with the food gods, this comes out. Disclaimer: I can’t be held responsible for my next words. Shut the Front Door! This portion is way too small for me. I want about ten times the size. No really, I’m not kidding. Although a simple marination of soy, ginger, garlic and I’ll leave the rest to the chef. These exacting portions, combined with length of marination and Hibachi (Flat top) cooking makes this the tenth wonder of the world. Another disclaimer: While some may like their meat with only salt and pepper, I like a little more to it. This is my Umami.
Are you in a food coma yet? Here comes Desserts.
Crispy Guava & Cream Cheese Dumplings-mango-lilikoi sauce. Yikes, one bite puts you to the nth degree of nirvana. Dipped in that mango sauce and the tropical gods sang.
Emeril’s Signature Banana Cream Pie-Graham cracker crust and caramel sauce. Truth be told, my dining companion took a bite and slyly slide this plate to a corner of the table. It was reserved for lunch the following day. An entire meal! Light, fluffy, airy, with sweetness that cradles to comfort.
Hawaiian Style Malasadas Donuts-with coconut haupia, passion fruit curd, and chocolate-peanut butter fillings. Directions: Grab donut with hand, split donut in two, Squeeze a filling of your choice and take a bite. Repeat with all filing, or together. Okay, okay, too primitive? Cut with knife then squeeze filling. Either way, bite into this soft, chewy, mold of sugary goodness and experience a rush. There is a surprise ingredient in there that contributes to it’s chewiness. If you ask politely, the chef may come out and explain. I am not spilling the secret.
Do you think this kind of feasting happens by accident? Not at all. There is no doubt in my mind that the previous menu and Chef of this fine establishment performed and served with stellar accolades. I have enjoyed and will enjoy again some of those creations. But this is a new day for Tchoup Chop. Change is always good. The entire management and culinary team has seen a recent change.
Front of the house team has over 30 years combined previous Emeril Restaurant experience, while the Chef is a Corporate rock star in his own right. Raised in Hawaii, Chef Ryan Vargas, attributed his early culinary inklings to his father. His father was a career Master Chief Mess Specialist in the United States Navy. For all you non seaworthy creatures, that would be the man who feeds the crew of a ship. For others, he is the God at the helm of the kitchen. Unbeknownst to Uncle Sam, young Vargas would wonder up to his father’s mess halls and poke around in the store rooms. Unknown fact, his father cooked for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Young Vargas also cooked for President Bill Clinton. How cool is that?
This early curiosity lead to culinary training at the famed Culinary Institute of America, where he would play host to his father’s young pups from the Navy. This lead to a path of culinary bliss in Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons Resort Restaurants. The freedom of ease to create and express, lead Chef Ryan Vargas to Tchoup Chop. Orlando is lucky to have a chef of this caliber. When a chef takes inspiration from his home kitchen and elevate to a professional kitchen, that is a chef whose heart is at the very core of his menu. He feeds you what he feeds his family. Isn’t that the Aloha spirit?
Tchoup Chop captivates with a long water feature down the middle of the restaurant. Soaring high ceilings allow for hanging lanterns and light features that simply whisk you away to an exotic enchanting palace. Unlike most Universal restaurants at City Walk for dinner, complimentary valet parking is available via the Loews Royal Pacific Resort Pacifica Ballroom entrance which is steps away from the restaurant entrance. For lunch, free valet parking is available via the hotel main entrance.
This Emeril Restaurant is aiming to break the stigma of “Hotel Restaurants” being stiff and proper. As evident from managers, servers, captains and Chef walking around and checking on guest to create a more lingering unrushed feeling. The atmosphere is more laid back with precise service. I’d say this change is right about welcomed. I can’t wait to go back and have another piece of Hibachi Skirt Steak.