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Universal Orlando Dining–Tchoup Choup, The Palm, and Bice

My husband and I are restaurant snobs. I think I’ve admitted that on here before. And so, when planning our trip to Universal I attempted to make reservations for the three major on site resort restaurants.

Imagine my surprise when not only could I not make advance reservations for them, but I didn’t need to make reservations. We managed to dine at exactly the times we desired by only calling ahead a few hours.

In retrospect, this plan came with a pretty significant bonus–we were able to check out the other two resorts for future reference. Because as is clear by now, we will be going back to Universal!

Tchoup Choup

The evening of our first full day was spent at the resort located the farthest distance from Portofino Bay–The Royal Pacific. This is the resort I’d orignally booked–and judging by the crowded, loud (but beautiful) pool we witnessed, the switch was a good choice.

Approaching Royal Pacific Resort from the water taxi

We took the resort boat from Portofino to City Walk, and then the resort boat from City Walk to Royal Pacific. This was the only time we almost didn’t make it onto a boat–there were always far more people waiting for the Royal Pacific boat than for either of the other resorts. I imagine this is because it is a larger resort than Portofino and it is farther away than Hard Rock.

Looking past my husband into the bar area

The main restaurant at Royal Pacific is Emeril’s Tchoup Choup. It looks, well, just like an Emeril restaurant from the outside, as you can see from the photo at the beginning of this section.  The almost-Vegas-esque look continues inside, where wine bottles line an entire wall and an infinity edge koi pond runs down the center of the entire room. Of the three restaurants, Tchoup Choup wins the award for best ambience.  Check out the poorly taken photos below…

The interior was kind of like being under the sea

A pond ran the length of the room

Two hand rolls and a shot of saki!

Tchoup Choup also wins the award for ‘the restaurant most able to get my husband plastered’. He ordered a large hot saki and enjoyed all of it throughout our meal. He also ordered a sushi handroll sampler appetizer that came with a shot of cold saki. I don’t like saki in the least bit, but I drank it just to keep my husband from consuming it! I have to admit, it goes very well with raw tuna and seaweed. I may just begin ordering saki with my sushi regularly.

The sushi appetizer was good, but the traditional appetizer we ordered was amazing. It was just a crab cake, but it was THE BEST crab cake I’ve ever had. Unbelievable.

This is the crabcake you are looking for...

My husband ordered the short ribs–which I thought was insane, given the fact that we were in a seafood restaurant. So I ordered the fish special of the day–trout stuffed with shrimp and lobster.

It was disgusting. Inedibly disgusting. The fish was dry and the stuffing was less the kind of stuffing you’d stuff a fish with and more the stuffing you’d fill a won-ton with. The only word I can use to describe it is spongy. I think at one point I actually poked it with one finger just to watch it bounce back. I shudder.

The fish of the day...looks pretty, tatsted terrible!

When the waiter noticed that I wasn’t eating, he inquired, and then insisted that they make me something else. At this point my husband was halfway through with his red meat and it was getting really late–Tchoup Choup’s service is as slow as it should be. So I just asked for another crab cake–because it was SO GOOD and I was actually sad when I took the last bite because I knew I’d likely not be back for years (yes, it was so good that I mourned its loss!) The waiter insisted on giving me some sort of side dish with the crab cake appetizer, so I agreed on some stir-fried veggies.

The second crab cake was as amazing as the first, and the veggies were an entree in their own right. I love mushrooms but never get to enjoy them because my husband hates them. Fortunately, the stir fry was chock full of all different kinds of mushrooms. My mouth is watering now just thinking about it.

While I did not like the fish special, it is possible that I simply ordered poorly–or that the fish was kept under the lamp too long whilst my husband’s short ribs braised (my money is on the second) but the food I did have was so great, the service was so wonderful, and the ambiance was so lovely that I’d definitely return to Tchoup Choup.

And yes, I’ll get another crab cake. And something with mushrooms.

The Palm

Night number two found us walking along the garden path from Portofino to The Hard Rock Hotel. It was a beautiful walk, and not too far at all. It gave me the opportunity to make my husband take this photo of me…

Walking from Portofino Bay to The Hard Rock Hotel

…unfortunately it came out blurry, and there’s no making my husband do a retake. I shall live my whole life taking photos and very rarely have a good one with ME in it!

Truth be told, I didn’t even considering staying at The Hard Rock Hotel. It just

Lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel

didn’t seem like my style. How wrong I was. It was so very my style–the epitome of moderately over the top fancy hotel-ness. I would definitely stay there in the future…or I would, if Portofino bay wasn’t calling me back!

Before we were seated I made a pit stop at the ladies room. Why am I telling you this? Because it was the coolest ladies room I’ve ever seen. Yes, I took pictures…

Ladies room at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Still the ladies room...

I felt silly snapping photos until I turned the corner (it was made up of multiple rooms) and found another group of women doing the exact same thing! It was a really nice restroom!

The restaurant itself was everything a restaurant should be–cozy and romantic and relaxing.  It was also very dark, as you can see here…

Can you see my husband? Yeah...neither can I!

The service here was the kind of slow that I actually appreciate.  After all, if I’m paying this much for a meal, I’d like it to last a while!  We started off with the clams casino, which were good but not world changing.  My husband had the filet and I had one of the specials–a ravioli dish covered in (you guessed it) mushrooms!  They were filled with crabmeat.  Everything was good, but presentation was lacking.  I kind of got the feeling that the kitchen was feeling very rushed–to the point of throwing food out the door…

Clams Casino

My husband's filet and a side of creamed spinach.

My crab ravoioli in a mushroom sauce

All in all it was a good meal, but likely not worth the insane price.  Of the three restaurants, The Palm was our least favorite–but that’s not to say that we didn’t like it.  We liked them all!

Bice

We had no intention of dining at Bice, but on the last night of our trip we thought ‘what the heck–we’ve eaten at the other two ‘nice’ restaurants!’  And so we made a reservation an hour or so before we were ready to eat and showed up.  Have I mentioned that I love the ease of dining at Universal?

Bice was the only well-lit restaurant we visited all week.  With giant windows looking over the fake harbor and tinkling piano music in the background, it was almost romantic.  I say ‘almost’ because someone had decided to bring a screaming child to the most expensive restaurant on site. This is my husband being annoyed…

Fortunately they eventually took the screaming child outside.  And then we were happy.  See?  Happy.

Happy at Bice

I was feeling a bit queasy after that day’s activities (which included 100 degree heat, blasting cold air conditioning, an ill-advised lunch break glass of wine, and the Hulk) and I really didn’t want an upset stomach to ruin our meal.  So I did what anyone would do whilst on vacation–I ordered a glass of Proscecco hoping that it would settle my stomach.  And do you know what?  It worked!

For our meals we once again assumed our proper roles–the husband ordered meat and I ordered seafood.  He had his favorite dish of all time–osso bucco, served as it should be over a bed of risotto.  He loved it.  I had the sea bass, which I requested be served with mashed potatoes instead of roasted potatoes.  The server gave me a bit of a snooty attitude about that, but I decided not to care.  This was the only snooty waiter we experienced in all of Universal.  And, to be fair, it was only a moment of snootiness.

The husband's osso bucco

My sea bass with...gasp...mashed potatoes! And it was good, too!

The meal, like this portion of the post, was oddly brief.  I think we were there for a total of 45 minutes, and I had a drink, soup, and an entree.  I hate being rushed when dining, so Bice lost some points there.

The Verdict

As far as overall dining experience goes, I think the award has to go to Tchoup Choup.  While my initial meal wasn’t great, the service was wonderful, the ambiance was unbelievable, and the food I eventually ate was out of this world.  Heck–the stir fry was so good I failed to take a photo of it!

But put all of the dining experiences together, and, well, you get one great short vacation!

Up next…in case you are still hungry, a review of the ‘other’ dining options at Universal Orlando:  Mama Della’s, Sal’s Deli, Finnegan’s Pub, Mythos, and the unavoidable Hard Rock Cafe.  How did we not gain weight on this trip???

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