Rhapsody in White

Oh, yes, the Anaheim White House is a fancy restaurant. The kind where, when you ask for water, the waiter will offer two options: “Sparkling or flat?” You answer “flat,” and he brings out one of those bottles imported from Europe, pouring its contents into your glass before you've had a chance to protest—adding $6.50 to your bill before you've even opened the menu.

The parking is valet, the dining rooms are named after presidents, the dishes after fashion designers, and the owner has his own cookbook, featuring photos of nearly naked male models posing with food. And no matter where you sit in the restaurant's eight different dining areas, you're surrounded by white silk, gold and twinkle lights.

Liberace would be proud. So would wedding parties and your prom date.

The restaurant is designed for such events, but it's dolled up year-round just in case any celebrities decide to drop in. And after one does, their head shot and name are featured proudly in the hallways and on the website, so that all may know that so-and-so ate here.

They did one better for local-girl-made-good Gwen Stefani. The “Tragic Kingdom” native is forever immortalized in an appetizer of ravioli named in her honor. It did not contain any b-a-n-a-n-a-s, but I ordered it anyway. What I got were two triangle-shaped purses of al dente pasta filled with chopped lobster meat and drizzled with a citrus sauce.

My friends tucked into salads that lacked a celebrity tie-in but not flavor. A fruity pomegranate dressing coated every green, frilly leaf and cut through the botanical bitterness. It was served in edible bowls made from oil-puffed tapioca crackers.

When the entrees arrived, we realized that this kitchen was all about presentation. On every plate, mashed potatoes were piped into spirals. And, whenever possible, some sort of decorative element fashioned out of crisped lavash or fried tortilla was added—for no apparent reason, except maybe to justify the prices.

The most dramatic garnish looked like a room divider with keyhole cutouts. It was taller than our long-stemmed glasses and more attention-grabbing than the “Vuitton Costata Steak” it accompanied. When it came to actually eating the meal, this glorified cracker just got in the way. We passed the silly thing around the table and broke it into pieces so that everyone could take a nibble.

The steak that remained looked a bit dowdy without it, but was grilled exactly to order and draped in a peppercorn sauce. While it was tender and flavorful, this hunk of meat was unremarkable—except for costing forty bucks. Same story with the rack of lamb, though it did have a perky pool of sauce made by a reduction of its juices and a touch of dijon and harissa. The presentation was flawless, of course, with bones carefully arranged to arch over a fried tortilla cup filled with mashed potatoes.

The fish entrees were shorter on showmanship, but better executed and less expensive to boot.

A brick of halibut dusted in Parmesan and pesto was served with a sweet-potato puree that played well with the mildness of its flesh. The poached salmon was so moist it nearly collapsed under its own weight; it boasted a liberal drizzle of a citrus beurre blanc that elevated without overpowering. Most memorable was the mound of white-chocolate mashed potatoes underneath the fish, which tasted of vanilla-kissed yams.

Dessert was better still. The Grand Marnier soufflé was an airy cloud of pastry. Our waiter poured three toppings (chocolate ganache, Chantilly whipped cream and Crème Anglaise) out of gravy boats into the soufflé's center. (I ate the leftover sauce with a spoon when no one was looking.)

Despite a mild case of sticker shock, we left the Anaheim White House satisfied—and gratified—knowing that we'd eaten where Danny DeVito and his celebrity friends once did. I bet none of them blinked when that imported water was brought out.


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