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Sunday, Jun 23, 2024

Anaheim White House Better Second Time Around

Bruno is back!

Chef Bruno Serato, owner of the Anaheim White House Restaurant, has endured more than a year of rebuilding his beloved Italian restaurant after a fire nearly destroyed the landmark.

With much anticipation and more than a little fanfare, the White House opened its doors in mid-May to the delight of hundreds of Bruno fans who were able to snag reservations for opening weekend.

I stopped by a week later to see the new place and check out the upstairs bar—yes, a bar!

From the outside, the restaurant looks refreshed and familiar, like an old friend whose makeover enhances his or her appearance. Inside, the decor dazzles like an Italian villa should, but those familiar with the old White House will notice a revamped layout that seems more open yet still offers multiple intimate dining areas.

After a quick tour, I climbed the stairway to the second floor and stepped into the B bar, an indoor-outdoor area with traditional bar seats, an indoor lounge, and outdoor couches and tables.

The tapas-style global bar menu is unlike anything Bruno has previously created. A quick perusal revealed Italian, French and Japanese dishes. The rainbow doughnut caught my eye—a rice doughnut stuffed with crab and topped with ahi tuna, salmon, Hamachi, sesame seeds, caviar and radish, served with eel sauce. It arrived complete with chopsticks, which I used to scoop the delicious morsels into my mouth.

However, when in Rome, order pasta. I couldn’t decide between the rigatoni carbonara with cheese, egg, sauteed bacon and pepper, or penne amatriciana with pork cheeks, Italian bacon, brown onions, cheese, basil and crushed red chili flakes, so the chef graciously gave me samples of each. No wonder I couldn’t decide—one is creamy, one spicy. Both are excellent.

And how does Chef Bruno feel about his new, old restaurant?

“I am so happy about the new reopening,” he told me. “The customers love it because they feel like they are in Italy or France. It’s almost like a restaurant in a museum because of the artwork on each wall of the dining room. And they love to see the old crew back—more than 80% of them have come back. I did a smaller menu to start because I want my crew to get back in track step by step.”

Overall, Bruno said, “I could not be more happy. I feel like I just bought a new restaurant. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.”

887 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 772-1381; anaheimwhitehouse.com

Il Barone Moves

Another noted Italian restaurant is also celebrating a new beginning. Il Barone Ristorante, opened in 2009 by former Antonello Ristorante chef Franco Barone and his wife, Donatella, served its final meal in April at its cozy spot in a strip mall near John Wayne Airport.

Fortunately, Il Barone reopened a few blocks away in a larger spot on Bristol Street in Newport Beach inside a remodeled Coco’s Restaurant. The interior has been revamped, as has the kitchen, which now features a pizza oven. The ever-popular facci ri veccia, a thin pizza made with cheeses, prosciutto and truffle oil, is still on the menu, as are other longtime favorites and new dishes.

I stopped by the old location on closing weekend for my facci ri veccia fix, and several weeks later visited the new restaurant, which is double the size of the old Il Barone.

I ordered the sauteed mushrooms—four types from Europe—and the truffle pizza special. Both were as perfect as you can get. The pizza crust is light yet robust, and the combination of the mushroom and truffle flavors was perfectly balanced.

Il Barone is open for lunch weekdays and dinner nightly. And because area daytime parking can be challenging, it’s offering complimentary valet Monday through Friday during lunch.

Its deli-bakery, Bottega, is still at the old location on Martingale Way.

900 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach, (949) 955-2755; ilbaroneristorante.com

Monarch & Montage

Last month I wrote about my memorable dinner at Bourbon Steak at the Monarch Beach Resort. Seems like I’m not the only one raving about the food and ambiance. Friends have relayed their complete pleasure with the restaurant, as have fellow food writers.

In my review, I accidentally typed the word Montage instead of Monarch in one paragraph, and apologize for any confusion.

The Montage was on my mind at the time because the Laguna Beach resort is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a refreshed lobby lounge, along with a new menu of gourmet coffee and tea, light breakfast items and dessert.

I popped in to the Montage with several fellow foodies to sample pastries and try the new cocktail menu, ordering the Change of Scenery, a blend of 10 Cane rum, Jamaica and lime, served on the rocks. Very refreshing.

The miniature jam-filled donuts were addictive, and the apple-walnut turnover flaky and hearty, as was the almond croissant. What made it even better was relaxing in a comfortable easy chair while gazing out at the ocean.

30801 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, (866) 271-6953; montagehotels.com/lagunabeach

Beach Town Brick

I find myself in San Clemente more and more frequently due to my newfound discovery of delightful restaurants in this charming beach town. One of those is Brick, an Italian restaurant that I’ve somehow overlooked during its six years at its Coast Highway location. A friend organized a small media dinner so we could sample the new menu created by longtime Brick owner and Executive Chef David Pratt, whose previous restaurant experience was as general manager at Studio restaurant, chef at the former Mirabeau in Dana Point, and executive sous chef at Picasso at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Pratt told us he’d considered opening a second restaurant but decided instead to refocus on Brick. He brought in a new wood-burning grill and added steaks, lobster, salmon and other dishes.

“My big fear was in how my regular guests would react, but everyone is enjoying it,” said Pratt, who relies on repeat business from customers who trust him to deliver an exceptional dining experience.

We were able to sample eight dishes that night, ranging from grilled Spanish octopus with rioja-style chorizo and slow-roasted pork belly with herbed spaetzle, to braised veal with pappardelle and grilled lobster with basil mousseline and beurre blanc.

Altogether they were an excellent example of what Brick is doing, and doing well.

216 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 429-1199; brickrestaurantgroup.com

Evening in Italy

In my ongoing quest for the best hotel restaurants, I recently had dinner at one of my favorite dining spots: Andrea at Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast. Fellow foodie Shelly Zavala eagerly accompanied me after I mentioned we’d start our meal with Mediterranean octopus, one of her favorites.

Things I love about Pelican Hill: friendly complimentary valet, a gorgeous setting that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to an Italian villa, and three restaurants that beckon diners with creative and thoughtful cuisine.

Andrea is my favorite. It offers unlimited views of the Tom Fazio-designed golf course and the ocean beyond.

Shelly devoured the octopus but saved me a bite. We also ordered the prosciutto and arugula thin-crust pizza with burrata and Parmesan. These are delicate pizzas, yet packed with flavor. Then came the pièce de résistance: barrel-aged acquerello risotto with forest mushrooms, presented tableside.

A large Parmesan wheel came to our table via a cart. The wheel had a hollow center, into which was dumped two generous servings of risotto. Our server scraped parmesan from the wheel into the risotto, mixing it as she scraped. And we were in luck that day—black truffles are in season, so we had an ounce of truffles shaved into our ramekins of risotto.

As I swooned while digging into the decadent dish, Shelly graciously made up for hogging the octopus and let me finish her risotto.

Reluctantly passing up other favorites, such as duck ravioli and saffron tagliatelle with short rib ragu, we opted to end our dinner with hazelnut Frangelico tiramisu and chocolate espresso mousse.

The service at Andrea is attentive without being obtrusive, and the entire experience is delicious and relaxing.

22701 Pelican Hill Road S., Newport Coast, (844) 445-2183; andreanb.com

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