The name's the same--Thee White House--and the intimate charm of this lovingly restored Colonial-style 1909 Craftsman home remains. Otherwise, this Anaheim dining oasis bears very little resemblance to the restaurant of little more than a year ago.
The difference is an ebullient young gentleman from Verona, Bruno Serato. The former chef (for six years in Italy) and maitre d'/manager (La Vie en Rose in Brea) has transformed the heavy Continental menu to lighter Italian cuisine inspired by Marchesi, chef of Italy's only three-star restaurant.
Consider the pasta, for instance. As dinner-time appetizers, they are appropriately portioned, or you may enjoy them as entrees at lunch. My favorites are ravioli with porcini mushrooms; pappardelle, the extra-wide fettuccine, with breast of smoked duck; linguine with hot peppers and garlic, and the pasta I enjoyed best, raviolo aperto-- an open raviolo made with a broad black-and-white lasagna noodle (striped with squid ink) brimming with tender scallops.
The gnocchi was a near miss. Unlike the lead sinkers served by so many restaurants, these were wondrously light, the sauce redolent with Gorgonzola. Just a little more cooking time, I think, would correct their doughiness.
Of the dinner salads on the a la carte menu, insalata Christina is "a real Italian salad," insists maitre d' Cristina Uemura. It mingles arugula, Belgian endive, pine nuts and sun-dried apricots with a Balsamic vinegar dressing--much too much dressing the night of my visit. Still I loved the salad's lightness, contrasted with the extremely rich, albeit beautifully flavored, cream of mushroom soup.
Entrees vary from rabbit with sage and Verona-style cioppino to frogs legs with tomato and garlic served with pappardelle. The roasted quail caught my eye because it's served with polenta, which I adore. The quail, tender and served in a sauce, was prettily presented with only a single bone to contend with. The polenta, however, was heavier, less moist than most. The sauteed halibut, also a bit dry, was redeemed by a superb, light Hollandaise sauce.
Better yet was the fillet of sole with white wine sauce, served on a bed of fresh spinach, which I ordered at lunch another day. This lovely plate also featured al dente zucchini and crookneck squash, a splendid peperonata and buttery potatoes.
While lunch possibilities range from crepe with ricotta to poached salmon with parsley sauce and fillet of beef with white pepper sauce, one of the most popular is vitello tonnato. Accented by the restaurant's black-rimmed plates, pink slices of cold veal and leaves of Belgian endive surround the moist tuna with mayonnaise. A handsome dish, it makes the perfect light lunch, summer or winter.
For dessert, the various cakes are pleasant, but the piece not to be resisted remains the tiramisu. Rather than offering the usual, difficult-to-cut cake form, Serato presents two perfect Italian lady fingers properly anointed with espresso and Cointreau, bathed in mascarpone sauce and dusted with chocolate. The complementary after-dinner drink, charbay, a blend of Chardonnay and brandy, is equally delightful.
Just as wonderful is the VIP treatment by Serato (who is on the floor unless he's working with chef Philip Clark to perfect a new dish) and the maitre d', Cristina. She seems to be everywhere, including the parking lot, where she followed me with the scrap of paper I'd dropped by our table. Further, she called me by name when I returned for lunch, though she had no idea why I was there.
Thee White House offers a full bar, a nice list of domestic and imported wines and piano music Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
Thee White House restaurant, 887 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim; (714) 772-1381. Lunch, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Saturday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Lunch entrees, $5.75 to $11.50; dinner entrees $13.50 to $19.50. Lot parking. All major credit cards. Reservations suggested.