Unlike before, I don’t want to spend much on food anymore. This last weekend, however, my friend Lourdes invited me to Bale Dutung (Wooden House), a “restaurant” in Angeles City, Pampanga. It is not strictly a restaurant as it is the house of the chef-artist Claude Tayag and his wife, Mary Ann. Dining there is by reservation only and a minimum of 12 persons and maximum of 30-50 persons (for the whole day). Dining is during only the lunch hour (dinner can be arranged but difficult). A meal can last up to 4 hours due to the several courses (hence the reason for the lunch only).
The restaurant’s website is http://www.baledutung.com and in there you will see the menus (three set of menu) and other information such as those pertaining to booking and some articles about the chef and the restaurant. Anthony Bourdain did a show there and liked what the chef served him a lot. I also saw a picture of the chef with the celebrity chef, Anna Olson, posted on the wall of the resto. A food writer, Simon Majumdar, did not initially intended on visiting the Philippines for his food trip across the world but at the insistence of an Indian friend, went there and landed in Bale Dutung. In his interview with New York Metro, he called the “kare-kareng lamandagat” as the best he has tasted in the world.
The restaurant offers three menus: the Anthony Bourdain menu, Kapampangan (people of Pampanga) menu and the lechon menu. Lechon (roasted pig) menu is only served when enough people for the day ordered it as the owners and the chef have to roast a full pig to be served. The other two menus are almost the same, except for two dishes. I had the Kapampangan menu.
The first dish served (one of the four appetizers) is pako salad. Pako is a kind of fern that is served raw or blanched. For our appetizer, it was served with tomatoes, onion and quail egg in honey-mango vinaigrette. The second appetizer is the one pictured above. Chicken BBQ paldeut is chicken inasal (chicken barbeque).
After that, we had adobong pugo (quail cooked in soy sauce and vinegar) and chicken liver and pan de sal. The quail was too salty for my taste and it would have been better served with rice. After this is the sushi made of hito (catfish) and crab fat wrapped in mustasa leaf. After that is another appetizer (humba, pork feet). Last appetizer is the best. Crispy lechon flakes taco, with onion, kimchi, parsley, etc. with coriander sauce.
The first main course is the one pictured above. The guava stew sauce is sweet (unlike most other bulanglang). The crayfish looks huge but about half of the seafood is actually just the head.
After that is another pork dish, sisig babi. Sisig (the current form) was invented by a small canteen owner, Aling Lucing. It is very popular now and is a usual companion to beer drinking sessions. It is made with pig’s cheeks and ears, hence, is full of cartilage and very crispy.
The final main dish is the karekareng lamandagat. It is made with seafood, string beans (artfully made into a ball) and in DELICIOUS peanut sauce. If there’s only one dish to try, this is it.
After that, finally, is the dessert. For the Bourdain menu, the dessert is tibok tibok (maja blanca made with carabao’s milk). For the Kapampangan menu, it is paradiso which is baked carabao’s milk with small balls of ube (purple yam) halaya, pastillas and candied kondol. It’s almost like creme brulee or leche flan but much more creamier. Dessert is served with either brewed coffee (local coffee beans) or tsaang pandan (tea with lemon leaves). The other meals can be had with water and salabat (ginger ale with lemon leaves).
It was a very nice dining experience and for the first time, I’m satisfied with the food pics I took (after processing of course). We did get to meet the chef after the lunch. His wife served as the lunch’s delightful and gracious hostess. She talked to us and explained the dishes and some of their history.
I got the feeling that the husband (both a chef and an artist) is a shy man as he did not talk very much and it is the wife who is the brain and business manager of the restaurant. They make good partners though.
For those in the Philippines or visiting here, you may want to go there for a different dining experience. (And no, we did not get our meals for free.)