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A Piece of the Rock

White Rock Cafe
Christopher Gardner

French Twist: The mother-daughter team of Michiko Boccara and Arintha Truitt draws Francophiles to the East Side.

Unlikely site, confident chefs make White Rock Cafe an engaging mixed metaphor

By Christina Waters

THE CROSSROADS of White Road and Alum Rock Avenue anchors the wide-hipped mountains of the Diablo range to the floor of the Santa Clara Valley. Here, on the ascent to the luxury of country club and spacious homes, is a cluttered, eclectic neighborhood punctuated by the White Rock Cafe, whose impeccable menu has created something of a cult following for miles around.

Owned by Arintha Truitt and her husband, Ken Love, the cafe offers a small menu of bistro items: salads, seafood entrees, grilled chicken, that sort of thing. But on Friday night and sometimes into the weekend, Arintha Truitt's mother, Michiko Boccara--owner of San Francisco's Rue Lepic bistro--comes down to cook. These nights are especially worth the pilgrimage to White Rock Cafe. Here's why.

A beguiling wall decoration of faux rock helps create little dining islands along the edges of the tiny room, where gray tones and white linens provide more visual interest. The incredible aromas from the kitchen do the rest. Right off the bat, it's wise to ask about the evening's four-course prix fixe menu, which augments the brief but happy menu of fish, steak, pork chops with fig sauce, pasta and a few grilled items. Without much deliberation, we succumbed to glasses of Lindemann's Merlot 1994 ($4), an order of the fresh trout of the day ($15.95) and the chef's prix fixe special ($25).

The light was slanting in a nice tone of gold as we began appreciating the creativity of chef Boccara, who in fine European fashion interweaves ingredients throughout various courses. In this case, tarragon found its way from the salad vinaigrette to the flawless bearnaise sauce on the plump filet mignon. The same grilled chicken that created an entrée also adorned a Caesar salad, as well as the Aztec Salad ($7.95), which my dining partner, Candice, tackled with gusto.

The gusto came easily, since this fine composition involved mixed greens, lightly laced with olives, sweet cucumbers, sliced apples and avocados--not an avalanche of ingredients, just a few choice examples of each--as well as slices of freshly grilled chicken, all lightly dressed with an excellent tarragon vinaigrette.

We also loved the tiny appetizer of smoked salmon sushi roll. Gorgeously topped with a micro-zest of brilliant magenta beet, the two rolls were packed with prawns and salmon, and sided with a pool of wasabi and soy sauce--perfect!

The second course of my chef's prix fixe was a cream of broccoli and potato soup, in which all elements combined seamlessly. Exactly the right degree of vegetable intensity, smooth creaminess and touch of salt made it a surprising hit.

The entrées arrived together, beautifully served and devoid of showiness. Candice's trout was butterflied for easy access, grilled just to the nick of succulence and joined by slices of lemon, an alabaster mound of scalloped potatoes and a dice of sauteed leeks, mushrooms and capers, all heightened with a light champagne and butter sauce. A tour de force, the dish showed off the chef's ability to heighten the main attraction and and then stand back and let the flavors strut their stuff.

My filet mignon arrived rare as requested, buttery tender yet not completely flavorless the way most filets tend to be. It was accompanied by slender al dente carrots and green beans, plus the comforting scalloped potatoes.

Regular patrons from the surrounding hills had packed the little cafe by the time we sipped our espressos. My chocolate ganache amounted to a mousse truffle on a pool of vanilla and orange-scented crème Anglaise. Candice's crème brûlée, topped with a strawberry, was served in a tiny cup. They weren't overwhelming portions, but rather just the right size to end a fine meal. These small bits of superb sweetness continued the evening's theme of restrained presentation and glorious cookery.

No wonder White Rock has a cult following.

White Rock Cafe

Cuisine: American bistro
Ambiance: Cozy, unpretentious
Service: Expert
Chefs: Michiko Boccara and Arintha Truitt
Prices: Average of $14, plus a nightly $25 prix fixe
Hours: Lunch 11:30am­2pm; dinner 5­9pm
Address: 3116 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408/729-4843

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From the August 7-13, 1997 issue of Metro.

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