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Orlando Update


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Just back from a trip to Orlando, Florida which included 2 days of down-time combined with a 3 day "techie" conference. As promised in a previous thread, I did visit Emeril's new Asian-inspired restaurant and have a full review for you but first let me indulge myself with a few observances about the Orlando area….

Disney - I have to say, they make the best popcorn on the planet. Now, I know that isn't exactly an appealing topic to the great gourmets that reside on this site, but for me, it was an experience I wish to re-live over and over. I mean, what DO they do to that stuff? Pop it and then soak it in butter? Ahhh. Nirvana. :wub: Ok, the frozen chocolate covered bananas weren't bad either. And that was just at Animal Kingdom! Couldn't get anywhere near the Rain Forest Café, it was so crowded, but who wouldn't want to sit on a plastic replica of an exotic animals back-end in front of a bar housing a tropical aquarium? Pretty cool. And who would have guessed that those frozen Margarita's at Epcot Center actually had alcohol in them? But I digress….

The first evening, I had dinner at Jiko, the African restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. The Lodge is absolutely beautiful, apparently it is a replica of a famous lodge in Africa. The floors are dark wood with African styled carpets, the chandeliers are encircled with African Shields, the elevator doors are etched with the images of giraffes and other exotic animals, it is really a very special place.

I began the evening at the Victoria Falls Lounge for a cocktail before dinner. The lounge is dark with low leather chairs and sofas and dark rattan tables in the seating area. The bar is topped with green marble and every six feet or so is a lamp adorned with carved rhinocerous heads. Large pillars painted to resemble sculpted sand rise from floor to ceiling. I ordered a "Safari Martini", (Absolut Citron, Van Der Hum Tangerine Liquer and a splash of cranberry) and enjoyed the company of the bartenders who were clad in denim nehru jackets.

After my cocktail, I headed down the winding staircase to "Jiko" the resorts fine dining restaurant. I had chosen this restaurant because I'd read a lot of good things about the Chef, Anette Gray, and also read that the restaurant has the most extensive, exclusively South African, wine list of any restaurant in the US. Since I was dining alone, the maitre'd asked if I'd like to be seated at "The Cooking Place" which is a marble counter area flanked by 2 huge clay and red tile ovens at one end. This was the perfect spot for me to sit because it allowed me to enjoy watching the preparation of the food and also enjoy the company of Tarana, a recent graduate of Johnson and Wales in Charleston. It was a slow night at the restaurant and only one other person sat at the Cooking Place, Teddy Hill, a South African wine maker from Rustenberg Vineyards. Teddy was there on a training/selling mission and it was his first visit to the U.S. I felt very fortunate to be in such knowledgeable company, unfortunately, he'd already eaten, so I was still left to dine on my own (unable to try more dishes with my limited, albeit hearty, appetite).

For my first course, I chose the Roasted Warm Octopus Appetizer, the waiter suggested Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the dish. The wine was very citrusy and grassy, very good, but not what I would have paired with this dish. Because it was roasted, the dish had more heavy, intense flavors. The octopus was good quality, very fresh, cut into large chunks, served with a tomato, caper, and black olive "salsa" and piled high with fresh watercress. The presentation was nice, served on a triangular plate with additional salsa dotting each corner. For me, the salsa was a little overwhelming for the octopus, I would've preferred something with a little less tang and more "bite", but it was still very good.

My second course was also an appetizer, the Maize Tamales. This paired beautifully with Kanu Keystone, a South African Blend of Cabernet and Merlot, very rich with lots of berries and not too tannic. The Tamales were filled with white corn blended with parmesan cheese, cream, roasted caraway seeds, cracked pepper and truffle oil. It was one of those dishes where the first bite is good, but it just keeps getting better and better with each consecutive bite. Warm, creamy, peppery, the ultimate comfort food. Mmm. I get misty just thinking about it. :rolleyes:

Full. Just enough room left for dessert. I agonized over the freshly made Apricot and Coconut Sorbets served with Spring Fruit Salad and Green Tea Citron, but finally settled on Pistachio Crème Brulee. It arrived with a nice hard shell, creamy texture with a few small chunks of nuts, and a layer of smooth dark chocolate on the bottom. Very nice. The Chef came out and spoke to me for a while during my meal and she was delightful. I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you are visiting Orlando.

The following night, after a full day of food and drink at Epcot Center, I dined at Emeri'ls new restaurant, Tchoup Chop with my friend Kristi and my new friend, Teddy Hill. Another Orlando observance…cab fares are outrageous! It was $50 one way from my hotel at Epcot Center to Universal Studios City Walk, something you might want to keep in mind if planning a visit. To date, I had heard two negative reviews of Tchoup Chop, so our original plan was to go and try some appetizers and then decide if we wanted to stay for a meal, but with the cab fare being so high, we decided to stay for the whole meal. In retrospect, we should've cut our losses and headed back to Epcot for some more popcorn and frozen margaritas. :blink:

The restaurant itself is beautiful, curved walls reach up to very high ceilings, a reflecting pond filled with water lilies extends the length of the dining room, and a chandelier of crystalline Hawaiian leis separates the dining room from the bar area.

The waitress brought a Chinese "To-Go" box filled with Shrimp Crackers (think shrimp flavored Pringles) and some peanut sauce for us to munch on while we perused the menu. I could eat peanut sauce on dirt and be happy, so I felt the meal was off to a good start.

We started with two appetizers; Pork and Ginger Dumplings with Sake-Soy Dipping Sauce and Ginger BBQ'd Gulf Shrimp. The pork dumplings were served in a bamboo steamer atop shredded cabbage. The dumplings were very small and the pork tasted slightly of lemongrass. The sauce was uninventive. This was not an unpleasant dish, but honestly I've purchased frozen dumplings from the Asian Market that were equally good. There just wasn't anything special about this dish. The BBQ'd Gulf shrimp were very good, served in a thick dark BBQ sauce, sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, cilantro, pepper, garlic all evident in the flavor. I enjoyed this dish although it may be too salty for some tastes.

Next, we tried the Miso Soup with Lobster and Shitake Mushrooms. Just the sound of that dish sounds wonderful to me which is partly why my disappointment was so extreme. This was a typical Miso soup served in small ceramic cups with a few small pieces of lobster, cubed "Blonde" Miso, and some shitake mushroom slices. The most disturbing thing about the soup was a strong smoke flavor, my friend insisted it was "liquid smoke" and I couldn't believe they would actually use something like that, but now I'm not convinced that she wasn't onto something. I asked the waitress and she told me the smokiness came from the "Blonde" miso. I think she was pulling my leg. Regardless, the presence of the lobster was pointless as the flavor was completely lost to the smoke.

We split two entrees, the Steamed Catch of the day (which happened to be Amberjack) was steamed in a banana leaf and served along side some sticky rice topped with sesame seeds in a bamboo steamer. Again, the presence of smoke flavor was evident, but I don't see any Miso in this dish so where is it coming from? The whole thing really aggravates me. Our waitress recommended the FireCracker Fish for our second entrée, she said the fish was "Triple Tail", something I've never heard of. The fish appeared to be dredged in a cayenne spiced flour and deep fried, leaving a "crust" that was papery in texture, like thin, spiced cardboard. The fish itself was nice and fresh, very white and mild tasting. It was served with a coconut, mango sauce that appeared to be thickened with, (gasp!), cornstarch. Most irritating though, was the fact that the kitchen refused to split this dish onto two plates as I requested. Even after I sent it back to the kitchen once, they returned with the same plate and an extra plate, saying the Chef wanted to maintain the integrity of the presentation (which wasn't all that impressive in the first place). :angry:

The check arrived before I could inquire about dessert and I took that as a sign from above.

I have in the past been a big fan of Emeril's. I have eaten at Nola and it was delightful. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I would not recommend this restaurant unless they make some serious improvements to their preparation. Next time I will try Roy's (Yamaguchi) and I will definitely make another trip back to Jiko.

"Never eat more than you can lift" -- Miss Piggy

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  • 1 month later...
Why, do you have to be Chinese to know anything about it?

Of course not. But you have to know something about it to know something about it. What in Lagasse's experience would lend itself to high-quality Chinese cookery?


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