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First Look: New Menu at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop featuring Robata Grill

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Emeril's Tchoup Chop new menu Robata grill
An updated sushi bar is just one of chef Ryan Vargas’ new changes at Emeril’s Tchop Chop

Since it opened with Loews Royal Pacific Resort hotel in 2001, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop has established itself as one of the best upscale eateries at Universal Orlando Resort. To kick off 2014, my favorite happy hour hangout has shaken things up in a serious way, with a new chef, new front-of-house management, new flavors, and a new high-tech tool in the kitchen. We’ll be returning in the future for a fully detailed review of Tchoup Chop’s new menu choices, but for now here’s a small taste to whet your appetite.

New chef de cuisine Ryan Vargas (a veteran of Four Seasons and Ritz Carltons in Hawaii and Palm Beach) came on board in October, but only recently introduced his completely revamped menu. The emphasis is still on “Asian-inspired island cuisine”, but there are a variety of new appetizers and entrees, an expanded sushi selection, and a brand-new specialty cocktail list.

Me with Chef Ryan Vargas.

The centerpiece of the refreshed menu is the Robata grill, a “traditional Japanese grill that sears meat, seafood and vegetables at up to 1,000° F, allowing dishes to maintain their natural juices and flavor.” Tchop Chop’s Robata is reported one of only two in the area, and after sampling its results I’m sure to return for more.

We tried three of the Robata menu’s small plate selections, which were beautifully presented on a single platter.

Califlower ($4) was a smallish portion, but the char brought out the vegetable’s natural flavor nicely, and the accompanying curry sauce had a spicy kick.

The Japanese eggplant was elaborately carved like an edible piece of art, and the blackened skin paired perfectly with a chili mint sauce, but I didn’t particularly care for the wet, mushy interior.

Pork belly, served with tamari chile vinegar, was far and away the star of the show. The unctuous fat was blackend to an umami-filled ash on the outside, and gorgeously gelatinous underneath. Even if every other item on Tchoup Chop’s menu was abysmal (hint: they aren’t), this perfect piece of pig would be worth the trip all by itself. At $8, I didn’t feel feel the price was too outrageous, especially if you compare the quality and quantity to the tapas offerings at Epcot’s new Spice Road Table.

Behold the beauty of carmelized pork belly fat. Yummmmm…

Finally, for those who are frightened by change — fear not! The fabulous daily happy hour (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) still offers $5 full-sized appetizers, including the addictive kiawe baby back ribs. I’ll see you at the bar!


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

2 thoughts on “First Look: New Menu at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop featuring Robata Grill

  • Interesting. We were there during the first week in November, and our opinion was that the food was a far cry from the first couple years after opening. Tchoup Chop used to be one of our favorites, but it seemed to have continually deteriorated in quality. I wonder if the new menu had been implemented yet? We might need to give it one more try.

    • The new chef was hired late last year, and his new menu was just rolled out a couple weeks ago. I’d suggest giving it another chance.


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