Hail To The Chef!
Anaheim White House – Anaheim, CA
It had been a quest for Tracy and me to finally dine at the White House again. No, not that one in Washington DC, but the newly reopened one in Anaheim. The Anaheim White House is not only known for fine dining, but for its humanitarian and philanthropic chef and owner, Bruno Serato, whose charity Caterina’s Club feeds nearly 18,000 meals a week to needy Orange County kids (photo courtesy of Anaheim White House).
Sir Bruno (he has been knighted by the Italian government) founded Caterina’s Club, a non-profit organization inspired by his mother, Caterina, in 2005. In 2005, Bruno and his mom “saw a 7-year-old boy eating a bag of potato chips at a local Boys and Girls club, and when she (Caterina) learned that the snack was all he had for dinner, she instructed her son to head back to the restaurant and feed the children pasta.”
Caterina’s Club now feeds about 4,000 children daily, and Chef Bruno’s influence has extended far beyond Southern California. More than two million meals have been served so far in a total of 67 locations in 20 cities, states and countries, including Chicago, New York, Texas, Mexico, Los Angeles, Africa and even in his native Italy (and it keeps growing). He has received many national and international accolades (2011 CNN Hero, a Humanitarian Award on the Capitol Steps, a speaking engagement at the United Nations and a papal blessing from Pope Francis, among others), but one of his most coveted honors was getting to go backstage in Las Vegas and meet Sophia Loren. Now, that’s entertainment!
Bruno grew up in northern Italy near Verona, learning to cook from his mom. Arriving in America with just $200 in his pocket, Bruno secured a job as a dishwasher at Le Vie en Rose, a French restaurant in Brea, California. He moved up through the ranks to busboy and then general manager in only five years. In 1987 Serato bought the Anaheim White House (which I guess makes him Commander and Chef), located inside a national historical landmark home built in 1909.
In 1981, the home was fully restored, and it opened as the White House restaurant, so named due to its visual exterior similarity to the one in DC.
Serato said in an interview, “When I saw it for the first time, I was like Oh my God, this is beautiful!”
In February of 2017, an electrical fire engulfed the White House (this time the British had nothing to do with it), which suffered extensive damage. (photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)
Not only was the restaurant unavailable for its customers, Caterina’s Club was now suddenly in jeopardy. Area restaurants and caterers stepped up to the plate (or in this case, “the plates”) and quickly opened their kitchens for Bruno and his staff to continue offering dinners for these “motel kids.” In fact, Bruno has gone beyond his previous mission by helping these families move from hotels into permanent housing.
The Anaheim White House reopened for dining in May, and we secured reservations for the first weekend in June. I was hoping to say “hello” to Chef Bruno (who I met on a few occasions while working on a magazine that my business partner and myself published for the Fresh Produce and Floral Council), however he was in Italy during that time. (photo courtesy of FPFC’s Fresh DIGEST)
Although the Anaheim White House calls itself an Italian Steak House, its cuisine is a lot more than steak and mouth-watering pasta. The menu incorporates various Asian, French and international influences, too. Tracy and I had visited in the early 1990s, but didn’t remember much about it (I don’t remember what I did yesterday, so stuff about the 90s is out of the question), and were excited to give it another try.
We arrived very early for our 7 p.m. reservations (a little after 6) so Tracy could partake of one early cocktail as she was our designated driver. I’ve told you I married well. After taking some photos of the lovely exterior …
… and catering areas (Lots of parties and weddings take place here. For special events with more than 200 people the entire property can also be rented.) …
… we entered the newly remodeled space. Gorgeous!
We headed upstairs to the bar to share a couple of Tomtinis (recipe here).
We gave our very personable and funny bartender Eric directions on how to make this unique cocktail, and he concocted one of the best ones we’ve ever tasted.
Tracy and I were starving, so we did what anybody would do before dinner … have appetizers at the bar. We split six Bourgogne escargot with garlic and herbs ($13.95). I believe garlic should be used in most all dishes. Heavenly!
Our friends Dan and Linda arrived about 6:30 and joined us in cocktails. Linda ordered an Aperol Spritzer (which we first had in Beaune, France a couple of years ago), while Dan had a Tomtini.
I was forced to join him. Our bartender gave us a tip (I reciprocated after drinks) that this would be the spot to be later in the evening. Outside the bar there’s a wraparound terrace overlooking the front of the restaurant and a small patio from where you can watch the fireworks at Disneyland.
After sipping our libations (I swear I sipped), we headed downstairs to one of the many beautiful dining rooms (12 to be exact), complete with hand-painted frescoes on the first level. An article in the OC Register said these are reproductions of works by “such master artists as Michelangelo, Giuseppe Angeli and Francois Girardon.” They really did a great job with the renovation. These small dining areas help with the noise level, well, apparently unless you are sitting right next to our table. More on that later.
To start, Dan and I split another escargot dish. I was beginning to feel sluggish (ok, I will never use that line again). Linda had the soup of the day, a delicious Lobster Bisque ($9.95). I had brought a bottle of wine from the Piemente region, where we will visit this autumn on our next Italy adventure. I really didn’t want to open the napkin because it looked so cool.
Tracy started with the White House salad; iceberg lettuce, red onion, cherry tomatoes in White House passion fruit and ginger vinaigrette ($8.95). Oh, those warm, house made dinner rolls were really delicious, too.
At this point, we noticed the couple next to us had moved to another table. We asked our very nice server Lucas if we were being loud or if Dan hadn’t showered. Lucas assured us with a smile that we were not being too noisy, but that perhaps their table was a little too close in proximity to ours. Finally, a White House that has a smart diplomat.
Our dinner was exquisite. Tracy opted for the 5 oz. Filet Mignon served with wild mushroom sauce on a bed of Italian polenta ($28.95). It was plated nicely with a parmesan crisp “hat,” or as they call it in Wisconsin, a Cheesehead.
In a surprise move, I did not order my favorite dish on earth (well, one of them), the Gorgonzola gnocchi. Instead, I went for the White House signature dish of Braised Beef, tender Midwest beef, braised in a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction, served with a robust porcini mushroom sauce ($34.95). It was melt-in-your-mouth delectability.
Dan decided to go the pasta route with my favorite form of spaghetti, bucatini. His Shrimp Bucatini; sautéed Pacific shrimp with soy sauce, a touch of cream tossed with bucatini pasta ($33.50) was scrumptious. I admit … I had to try a bite.
Linda had the Chicken Tarragon; 8 oz. Airline chicken, filled with Fontina cheese and fresh spinach, fragrant tarragon, served with seasonal vegetables, a beurre blanc sauce ($29.95).
Since it was nearing fireworks time, we asked for our dessert to be served upstairs on the patio outside the bar. Surprisingly, no one else in the restaurant took advantage of this location. We shared a Soufflé El Nino, flourless Grand Marnier soufflé, served with chocolate ganache, crème anglaise and Chantilly cream ($13.95). Decadence on a plate.
This dessert was plenty large for the four of us, especially as the staff also brought us a lovely dessert plate with a small éclair, crème brûlée and a white chocolate covered strawberry. I think they thought we were celebrating a birthday or were perhaps just happy that we were back upstairs. As Guy Fieri would say, the Grand Marnier soufflé was “out of bounds!”
Dan and Linda, who were Ubering, closed the evening with chocolate martinis, while designated driver Tracy, on the other hand, drove her slightly over-served husband home. I was coherent enough, however, to know I wanted to come back … soon! And we did.
In July, we joined friends Rob, Barbara, Tom, Carol and Elizabeth for a return visit to celebrate Tracy and my 24th wedding anniversary (I don’t know how’s she’s stayed with me that long either). Walking in the front door there stood the man himself, Chef Bruno. I introduced myself, and he was kind enough to take a photo with me (throughout the evening he would have plenty of photos taken with numerous patrons). That’s his mom in the picture behind us.
We started out upstairs again at the bar to catch up with our friends who we had not seen in quite some time. Then it was downstairs to a room near the entrance. Each room is unique, and if you go you should check out the details that went into this remodel. Once again, our dinner received rave reviews from all. By the way, those warm, fresh out-of-the oven rolls are worth every single, darned calorie.
Our group shared three appetizers:
The Calamari con Grappa, sliced Pacific calamari steak, sautéed with French shallots and Italian grappa and pasta ($12.95) were spot on. It reinforced my motto of, “You can never Stoppa when there’s a little Grappa.” This dish garnered the coveted “Wow!”
You never know what you’re going to get when you order Prosciutto e Melone, however my Prosciutto de Parma; famous Italian ham cured with sea salt and perfectly ripened melon ($15.50) received another “Wow!”
Our final appetizer made it a Trifecta of “Wows!” The Etna Volcano; crab, whitefish tempura, avocado, unagi sauce in a sushi roll topped with fried Shishito peppers, calamari rings and smoked jalapeño aioli ($13.50) erupted with flavor. The Etna Volcano, which contains no molten lava, has six slices and could very easily serve as a main course should you so desire. In fact, this dish is on the upstairs bar menu.
Now, it was on to another spectacular dinner. Rob and Barb shared the Osso Buco Milanese; cross-cut, bone-in veal shank, braised in red wine with locally farmed herbs, served over soft Italian polenta ($44.50). We were on a roll as they deemed this “Wow” worthy.
The other Tom ordered the fantastic Pappardelle Bolognese from the Emilia Romagna Region; extra-large fettuccine pasta (although he ordered it with spaghetti rather than the fettuccine) with traditional Bolognese sauce ($21.50). Since Tracy and I will visit Bologna soon, we snuck in a taste … very, very good.
Elizabeth and I got yet another “Wow” dish — Rigatoni Carbonara (a Roma specialty); large tube pasta stuffed with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, egg, sautéed bacon and dusted black pepper ($24.50).
Tracy’s very good dish came from Italy’s Lazio region (heck we should just come here and save the airfare). She went with the Penne Amatriciana; fresh Roma tomato sauce, pork cheeks, Italian bacon, brown onions, pecorino cheese, basil, local parsley and crushed red chili flakes ($23.95).
Carol went for the Signature braised beef dish I had loved the previous month.
Sides for the table included sautéed asparagus, broccoli cheese and quite an unusual one.
I was intrigued with one side dish that I just had to try, Chef Bruno’s special Ghirardelli white chocolate mashed potatoes ($8.50). I could have had that for dessert, but I really tried not to have dessert. Really!
Rob and Barb shared a Lemon Meringue; vanilla cookie dough, lemon curd and Italian meringue ($11.50).
Our cohorts had secretly told our servers it was our anniversary (so much for no dessert) and out came a “Happy Anniversary” plate that included a very delicious small crème brûlée, éclair and white chocolate dipped strawberry. We somehow managed to devour that plate of goodies in seconds.
There’s an extensive wine list, and corkage is $20 (four bottle limit).
There’s nothing better than dining at an establishment that serves great food with a delightful ambiance and serviced by professional and personable people. Chef Bruno kept his staff on payroll during the months the restaurant was closed by the fire, so you can see why much of his staff have remained with the restaurant for many years.
Above all, it is a terrific feeling to know that you are also dining at an establishment that supports a cause by feeding thousands of starving and homeless kids each and every day. I cannot recommend more highly spending a special night out at the Anaheim White House.
Anaheim White House Fun Fact: Among its many famous customers throughout the years are two presidents … Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.
MaiTai Tom Rating – 4.8 Mai Tais (out of 5)
Anaheim White House
887 South Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805
Hours: Monday – Sunday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.