Friday, October 3, 2014

Chef Emeril touches my mussels...maybe

I must give much love to the DIS Unplugged podcast because while I was listening to an episode they mentioned that September was Orlando restaurant month. Originally we were not going to eat at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant during our trip, but for three courses for $33 we squeezed it into our itinerary. We were ecstatic that we did.

Tchoup Chop is located at the Lowe’s Royal Pacific Resort.  You can walk there from Universal’s City Walk, but it was raining on the evening we were going, so we opted to drive.  There aren't a lot of signs or directions once you drive onto the grounds of The Royal Pacific to give you an indication of where you should park, so we parked, and then had a bit of a walk around the resort to get to the actual restaurant.  We didn't mind though because the grounds are beautiful.

We arrived and were seated in a booth right next to the infinity pond water feature.

Out of the three “fancy” restaurants that we ate at during the week of our vacation, Tchoup Chop wins the prize for best atmosphere.  From the open kitchen, to the lighting fixtures, to the interesting booths, it all came together to shout, you are somewhere special. It was instantly relaxing, and after a hectic day at the parks, relaxation was exactly what we needed.

Our waiter was friendly and engaging. He reminded me of Nick from New Girl.  Instead of bread, we were presented with a serving of shrimp chips with a spicy Thai dipping sauce.  

There were two different colors of chips. The white ones had quite a kick and the pink ones were not quite as spicy. The consistency was similar to the consistency of  Munchos. They were tasty. 

The selections for the restaurant week were limited, but I often like that because I don’t have to agonize over a huge menu trying to make a decision.

For my appetizer I ordered the fried green tomato “grilled cheese sandwich.”  

It was fantastic!  It was more like eggplant Parmesan with tomatoes or maybe more like a croquette? I don’t remember what kind of cheese was used but it was an amazingly creamy soft cheese that melted perfectly between the slices of green tomatoes. The crispy breading was perfect.  I wanted to physically give my appetizer a hug.  My husband got the poke nachos. 

I tried a couple and his appetizer was equally scrumptious. 

When our waiter came back to see if we liked our appetizers we noticed a commotion in the kitchen.  The kitchen staff had all gathered together and someone was taking their photo and there were lots of smiles, laughs, and joyousness. My husband asked the waiter,

“Hey what’s that all about?”

The waiter replied,

“Oh, Chef Emeril is here tonight visiting the restaurant. The kitchen staff wanted to get a group photo.” 

Our jaws dropped. All we could think was WOW. We took a closer look at the open kitchen and there he was, Emeril himself, at the restaurant while we were eating.  We tried to snap a couple of quick pictures but we didn’t want to be too intrusive or obnoxious.  

Emeril became our entertainment for the evening. We watched him work in the kitchen, giving the staff pointers, or at least that is what we imagined he was doing.
Given my work in quality assurance, I asked the waiter if they had a heads up that Emeril was going to be there that night or if he surprised them. Our waiter said yes, the staff did know he was coming, but Emeril said he would be there at 7pm and he showed up at 5pm. Our waiter told the story about the last time Emeril was at the restaurant six months ago. He (our waiter) was so nervous that he spilled a beer on a customer and he was worried about getting fired, but Emeril was really nice about the whole ordeal.  He said this time he was standing at the hostess desk and turned around and Emeril was right there, right in front of his face. Emeril held out his hand and our waiter was flustered and gave Emeril an awkward, weird handshake.  He lamented that now Emeril will remember him as the guy with the really weird handshake who spilled a beer on a lady. 

For my entrĂ©e I ordered the Seafood Cobbler.  I didn’t think until after I placed my order that I never asked if it contained clams, oysters or mussels. They are not my favorite.  When my entree was set down before me I noticed that it did in fact contain mussels.  

I looked down at them and thought, Oh no, what if Emeril touched these mussels? What if he himself personally made these mussels and now I’m not going to eat them and leave them on my plate and that will make him sad? So I ate the mussels and you know what? They were good.  They mostly tasted like white wine.  I was pleased.  The rest of the seafood cobbler was great, especially the crumbly bits on the top.  My husband got a beef/steak dish that came with a little jar of Korean BBQ sauce.

Of course some of the patrons asked if they were actually going to meet Emeril, but the staff told them that Emeril was there vacationing with his family and hadn’t planned on his visit being a big meet and greet. He was there to check on the quality of the restaurant and spend time with his family, which I completely respect.  

When Emeril visits one of his restaurants he tells the head chef,

“Make me something.” 

He must have said this around the time we were eating our entrees because he retreated to a VIP section of the restaurant.  We watched the head chef work with maybe just a little bit of sweat on his brow while the rest of the staff looked on with held breath.  At one point he set something on the counter that looked like tacos and then squeezed a sauce over top. He threw up his hands. Everyone in the kitchen cheered, then the dish disappeared into the VIP area. 

I can’t say enough about how great our waiter was. With all of the goings on our desserts took a little while to arrive to our table. Our waiter profusely apologized at one point for the delay, but we told him no worries, we were having a wonderful evening and time was not an issue, we were on vacation.

When we first arrived to the restaurant our waiter asked if we were celebrating anything special.  We said no, not this particular evening, but later in the week we would be celebrating my husband’s birthday.  Even though it was still a few days away, they brought out one of our desserts with a candle and a happy birthday on the plate. 

I thought that was very nice.  We split our desserts, a banana cobbler, and Hawaii in a Jar, which tasted like a fancy version of ambrosia.  

They were both good, but very sweet , and filling, so we weren't able to finish them.  

While we were eating dessert we watched Emeril come out of the VIP area. He passed right by our table on his way out of the restaurant. It was pretty cool. 

Even if Emeril was not at the restaurant the evening we were there, dining at Tchoup Chop would have been a memorable experience. The food was scrumptious, the service was exceptional, and the atmosphere was stunning.

Note: If you mention that you drove there and parked, they will give you a parking card so that you don't have to pay for parking.

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