Sunday, May 20, 2012

Emeril's Tchoup Chop, Orlando, FL

Let me make one thing clear right off the bat...I've had a crush on Emeril Lagasse ever since I first started watching the Food Network 17 years ago.  He can BAM!, "Kick it up a Notch" and crop dust the entire country with Essence as much as he wants love for him is unconditional.  Besides, James Beard awards aren't exactly tossed around like Mardi Gras beads.  Stinky Emeril Haters are encouraged to move on right now, lest my evil twin "The Big Blonde with the Bad Disposition" (a sweet moniker affectionately bestowed upon me by my second...and understandably ex-...husband) rears her ugly head and bites yours off.  I'm similar to the gentle David Banner in that you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.  Just kiddin'.  Sort of.

Tchoup Chop is a visually stunning and surprisingly intimate venue (I was definitely expecting something much larger).  While the interior is bold and "buzzy" with its gleaming open kitchen and lavish colorful tile and glasswork accents, there are definitely a few soothing nods to the cuisine's South Pacific influence.  We particularly enjoyed the zero-edge pool studded with glazed ceramic lily pads that ran lengthwise through the the better part of the dining area parallel to our table.  It's a convivial yet calming respite from the frantic fray of the tourist-dense Lake Buena Vista area...and while there were some well-behaved children in the resto and they seemed to be accommodated nicely, it lacks the "family appeal" that we were so desperately trying to avoid after two days at a Disney Resort. Yay!

Service was fantastic from the moment we drove up until we left...the valet staff, our impeccable server (Stephen) and even the maitre d', who seemed to have a third eye sweeping the room.  Anytime we even thought "hey, we could use some (fill in the blank)" and glanced around for our server...he swooped in like a hawk to assess our needs if Stephen was momentarily out of sight.

Let's get on to the food.  We were served Prawn Chips with Asian Citrus Aioli upon being seated.  If you're a person who can't eat just one Lay's Potato Chip, you'd be doing yourself a favor to stay the hell away from these things. The delicate, melt in your mouth crisps are made of rice flour and shrimp flakes.  Coupled with their creamy, zippy dipping sauce, these seafoam delights are truly crack-like.

UD loved the look of the Tasting Menu with wine pairings, so he went with that.  $80 got him four courses (along with generous accompanying wine pours with the first three).  First up (and an offering I truly coveted) were his Crispy Sweet Corn Fritters.  Hot and golden brown, the fritters were sweet, cloud-like, corn-studded on the inside and beautifully complemented by roasted garlic and truffle aoli for dipping.
Ordering off of the regular menu, I started with Mongolian Glazed Slow Roasted Pork Belly served in Chinese style steamed buns with Napa cabbage.  I've been served blubbery, unspiring pork belly on a couple of occasions fairly recently, which always sends me spiraling into She-Hulk mode.  In this case, however, the generous meat chunks were rich, tender, flavorful and had a relatively low fat quotient.  The pork belly converged with a sweet and spicy glaze, the pungent crunch of the Napa cabbage and the marshmallow texture of the freshly steamed buns to create one of my favorite tastes of the evening.
My better half's second course was Panko Crisped Palmetto Creek Farms Pork Cheek Galette...which almost made me want to throw the pork belly I was so enamored of before I tasted this on the ground like a stale Twinkie (not really...but the galette was mind-reelingly good!).  Must. Find. More. Pork. Cheek.
My Tchoup Chop Salad was the only thing that marginally disappointed as far as I was concerned.  Billed as a blend of mixed Asian greens, candied pecans, orange supremes and creamy soy was extremely light on everything but the greens.  While the presentation was pretty, it was all so dry that I almost felt like I was meadow grazing.  I think if the dressing hadn't been so scant, it would've been more retrospect, I should've asked for more.
Underdog's Tasting Menu entree was a Pepper Grilled Black Angus Ribeye.  Served with caramelized on the outside and creamily-dreamy on the inside roasted fingerling potatoes, asparagus and a Burgundy reduction sauce, it was both simple and delicious...the only caveat being that the steak was definitely cooked to medium temp as opposed to the medium rare which was requested.  Presented barely pink, it was moist and flavorful, nonetheless.  Still, UD has been known to sulk when his steak is not still mooing and spurting blood upon delivery...although he was so happy with everything else that he dialed it down to a pout this time and ate every bite.
Simple grilled or pan seared fish usually is rarely my first entree choice, but the Cilantro Seared Pacific Yellow Tail whispered my name on this particular occasion.  Presented on a bed of shrimp fried rice and accompanied by a soy bacon-corn sauce, it was moist and sweet on the inside with a nice exterior sear.  Really good stuff.
Dogboy's dessert proved to be more exciting than expected.  The Coconut Raspberry Trifle was a rich concoction of coconut and strawberry mousses layered with mascerated raspberries, coconut and strawberry sauce.  I couldn't keep my spoon out of it.
HowEVAH...Emeril's Banana Cream Pie (which our server informed me in advance was Emeril's mother's recipe and would be like none I'd ever tasted before) was off the chain.  While Jimbo was a little bummed because it wasn't more like that Jello-pudding-with-mushy-oxidizing-banana-slices comfort creation that our moms proudly served in the '60s and '70s (I guess he was feeling nostalgic), I rejoiced in the thick graham cracker crust and the sturdiness of both fruit and custard (the latter of which was almost the consistency of cheesecake).  The addition of piles of whipped cream, caramel sauce and jumbo chocolate curls made saddlebag thighs seem like a reasonable trade-off.
It was a wonderful dining experience overall and, while not exactly cheap, it's less expensive than the original Emeril's and I enjoyed it more.  We like it here!

Emeril's Tchoup Chop on Urbanspoon

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