Our first mistake was paying six bucks to park in the garage at Universal Studios CityWalk. That's because when we made reservations for Emeril's Restaurant Orlando, nobody told us we could park free at the Hard Rock Cafe. (Emeril's will validate valet stubs, saving $12.)
Our second mistake was forgetting to call and confirm our reservations on the day we were to dine, as we were told to do. So after hiking 10 minutes from the garage, we found ourselves turned away at the host station because we weren't on the list and there were no tables.
But there was no turning back. The host suggested that we return in several hours or go to the bar. We chose the bar, which is small but offers a view of the elaborate show kitchen where TV-celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse himself has been spotted in recent weeks, launching the latest in his restaurant family.
There's no arguing that Lagasse's adopted New Orleans flair is an attention-getter, on the tube and live. And a taste of the menu shows why his cookbooks sell by the millions. Everything we tried was flawlessly prepared and beautifully presented.
The prices are reasonable, considering the quality, except for the small portion about three bites of "grilled homemade andouille sausage" for $7.50. But it was the definitive andouille, thanks to Emeril's Worcestershire recipe, which is "kicked up" with anchovies and molasses. The crabmeat strudel also was a hit ($10), topped with hearts of palm and sweet-corn remoulade.
Daily specials play a prominent role, as the restaurant wants to lure the locals back for repeat visits. So far it's working, because 90 percent of the reservations come from residents, we were told. But the permanent menu is filled with incredible selections. Our favorite was the andouille-crusted Texas redfish ($22), dressed with roasted-pecan vegetable relish and teamed with shoestring potatoes.
Veal fans shouldn't miss the 14-ounce grilled chop ($27), served with cheesy grits, capocollo ham and exotic mushroom ragout. The chop was thick and thoroughly cooked but still juicy.
Attention to detail carries through to desserts. We had a luxurious trio of dark-chocolate truffle petit fours with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream ($7).
There is much to like about the casual, contemporary atmosphere, warm and spicy colors, and first-class service. Emeril's has the ingredients to hold your interest; just be sure to get those reservations straight.