If you’ve guzzled enough butter beer at Universal Studios Orlando and want to mix things up with a tiki drink, you should check out Emeril’s Tchop Chop (pronounced “chop chop”) at the posh Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
You probably know Emeril Lagasse from his many Food Network appearances (“Bam!”) but he’s also got a slew of respected restaurants in New Orleans plus Las Vegas, Orlando and beyond. Emeril’s Orlando at CityWalk offers his signature upscale Cajun/Creole food, while Emeril’s Tchoup Chop presents Asian/Polynesian fusion fare.
Rockwell Group in New York designed the techno-tropical decor with a lily pond in the center of the restaurant, chandeliers composed of small glass flowers and a colorful mosaic of giant blooms above the counter facing the open kitchen. It reminds me of a restaurant you’d find in Vegas casino.
On the left side of the restaurant there’s a bar with about a dozen bar stools. A few tables are also crammed in on that side of the room divider but we were told they were for those with reservations. The place was booked pretty solid on the night of our visit.
Lurking underneath the bar are several Balinese-style tikis, each carved in a slightly different style. One holds a fish while another carries a water jug and so on. (Notice the “E” carved on each.)
One of these was the model for the restaurant’s custom Tiki Farm mug, which has “Emeril’s Tchoup Chop” emblazoned on the back. There have been a few different glazes (green, blue, brown) over the years and the tiki mug even used to have metal rings hanging from its ears. The mug is sold for $15, with no discount for ordering a beverage in it.
Happy hour is offered every day from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. at the bar inside and at the outdoor “Tiki Bar.” (The weather was cold and rainy when we were there in February so the thatched hut bar was all shut up.) The deals include $4.50-$6 beers, $5 well cocktails and $6 house wines and homemade sangria. There’s also a discount on one featured specialty cocktail, The Painkiller ($10, normally $15), a cousin of the piña colada. I tend to make those at home so I opted for the 1944 Mai Tai Roa Ae ($15), made about as true to Trader Vic’s recipe as one can get. Other choices from the “Tiki Classics” section are the Fogcutter, Hurricane, Dark & Stormy and La Floridita (Hemingway Daiquiri.) (They’ve even put in the extra effort to include a little background information on each drink with the description.) On top of that, there are several original “Signature” cocktails that have some tropical flair.
You’re free to order off the full menu at the bar, but we made a meal out of the happy hour “small bites.” I’d skip the robata shishito peppers ($4) since there’s not much bang for your buck, but we did enjoy the spicy salmon cucumber roll ($6).
Those kalua chicken egg rolls ($5) were so good that we ordered another helping, and I still wasn’t able to snap a decent picture before we started demolishing them. The regular menu gets kind of pricey, but definitely has some dishes that sound tempting, like the “Duck Duck Goose” (kiawe smoked duck breast with foie gras gyoza, gooseberry “poha” jam and citrus mustard vinaigrette). Their new chef de cuisine Ryan Vargas is a Hawaii native and an alum of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, so he’s pretty legit.
The theming of Loews Royal Pacific Resort takes inspiration from the “Golden Age of Travel,” so the vibe is luxurious and exotic but not really “tiki.” (Although the hotel does host a weekly luau and I did spot a tiki mask in Jake’s American Bar, which is worth a look.) I’d highly recommend taking a stroll down to Universal’s neighboring Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which was all my mid-century modern dreams come true.