White House serves good food

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Monday, August 5, 2013


WHEN someone tells you about White House, what comes into your mind immediately? The house that was destroyed in a wink of an eye in the blockbuster “Independence Day”? The same house that was brought down and fallen in two most recent Hollywood movies?

Possibly the most famous residential landmark in the world, the White House has been the residence of the American president and family. But in Davao City, there is also a White House that is becoming popular among locals and tourists.

“Actually, when we were restoring the house, the carpenters referred to it as the white house since it is white painted,” says Cathy Binag, a chef who restored the house together with former House Representative Tony “Boy” Floirendo and turned into a restaurant. So, they named it The White House Fusion Cuisine and Wine Lounge.

Binag is from Manila so one wonders: Why is she putting a restaurant in Davao? “My friends told me that Davao, being in Mindanao, is a bit scary to live,” she recalled. “But I love simple living and I found out later on that Davao is the best place to live. Unlike in Metro Manila, there is no pollution here. It’s more fun and the people are warm and friendly. In fact, I can attest that Davao is the safest place in Mindanao.”

The old white house was built by Robert Kerr, a Scottish abaca plantation owner, in the 1900s. As it is located in a small hill, it overlooks the commercial district of Bajada. In the 1980s, when traffic was too much too handle, an overpass was built near it.

As more buildings were built, the white house – which used to be a landmark – was neglected. When the real estate developer Vista Land bought the surrounding area and converted a big chunk of the property into a pine-themed residential condominium, the company spared the old house from development.

Until Binag saw it while passing through from Buhangin going to the city. “I saw this old one which they say nobody is staying anymore,” she recalled. “I inquired and I found out that it is owned by Senator Manuel Villar. It was the same house that was offered to us in the beginning but never having seen it and said it is located under the bridge, I had never considered it.”

The rest is history. The old house was renovated and as a restaurant, it opened to the public on June 29. “The White House, a European-style house, now restored as a semi-fine dining restaurant and wine lounge, has stood sentinel over Davao’s transformation since 1920. (Its) unmistakably elegant at the same time comfortable ambiance brings out the best for our guests who would surely feel like it is also their home,” said its press release.

Here’s how the White House is being described: “Located in the heart of the city, it is perched on a verdant hill of green-grass and dotted with statuesque age-old variety of acacia, Caribbean pine trees, and fruit trees which have grown robustly around the establishment secluding the restaurant from the chaotic and stressful environment of the city.”

According to Binag, the restaurant focuses on Japanese-European fusion cuisine. “We combine Japanese flavors with European techniques to create unique dishes,” she explained. “This art of fusion cuisine aims to transform traditional Japanese and European dishes into contemporary ones.”

The White House also specializes in degustation, which means that each course are carefully served one after the other to taste them with much gusto. Currently, it offers several degustation menus, ranging from 5-9 courses.

During our visit, my friend Armando Mortejo and I were treated with nine different dishes. The first was Unagi and Torchon of Foie Gras Box Sushi with Oborro and Japanese Cucumber. It was so delicious that we took with relish the second dish: Smoked Toro Tempura Roll with Braised Gobo and Carrots served with Ponzu Sauce.

Lucks, someone once said, come in a company of threes. The next sets of dishes were Trio of Oysters and Trilogy of Foie Gras. The first was a sampler of Wasabi Oyster Tempura with Balsamic Mayonnaise, Quattro Formaggi Rockefeller, and Baked Oyster with Foie Gras Yuzu Hollandaise.

The Trilogy of Foie Gras was composed of a Pan Seared Foie Gras set on Nasu Miso, Poached Foie Gras set on Onion Steak in Teriyaki Balsamic Sauce, and Torchon of Foie Gras with Dehydrated Apple Chips.

The next three sets of dishes were even more palatable and exotic: Amaebi Carpaccio (served with Wasabi Quinoa Salsa drizzled with hot Olive Oil sprinkled with Black and White Goma), Duck Breast Pastrami Salad Roll (mixed with greens, grilled watermelon, orange caviar, fried Vermicelli in Orange Amasu dressing wrapped in Vietnamese rice paper), Pan Seared Sea Bass (served with Edamame, sweet potato mash, and lemon butter sauce).

We were already full but my companion can’t help doing the Ishiyaki Stone Grill where you cooked your type of meat (US Topblade, US Tenderloin, Angus Prime Ribeye, US Shortribs, and Wagyu Black Ribeye). Once the meat is cooked, you have to dip it to any of the following sauces: Ponzu, Wasabi Coconut, Red Bell Pepper, Kosher salt, and Chili Pepper.

While Mortejo was enjoying what he was doing, I was watching the waiter cooking the Hot Pot Sukiyaki on paper. Ingredients include Shirateke Noodles, Cabbage, Carrots, Shitake Mushrooms, Enoki Mushrooms, and Yuba. Two types of meat were used: Angus Prime Ribeye and US Shortribs.

We ended our food trip with the famous dessert – the vanilla cheesecake. “It’s just so heavenly, promise,” TV host-actress Kris Aquino said of the cheesecake, which has a green tea meringue base and topped with a yamamomo and mixed berries compote.

Mortejo and I agreed. It’s one of the best –- if not the best –- cheesecakes I have ever tasted. Thanks to Chef Justin Sison, who prepared the cheesecake which he himself created. He is also the operation and events manager of the restaurant.

The White House Fusion Cuisine and Wine Lounge is located at Northpoint J.P. Laurel Avenue in Bajada, Davao City.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 05, 2013.

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