if you are a foodie looking for a unique dining experience, may we recommend bale dutung? hey, anthony bourdain recommended it too! bale dutung, which means house of wood in kapampangan, is the home-turned-restaurant of artist-slash-chef claude tayag in angeles, pampanga. it's about a two-hour drive away from makati city. today, we went for the second time this year. it's a bit of an effort to go here, not just because of the trek, but also because you need to make a reservation and there is a 12-person minimum. sometimes, if you're lucky, they can take two of you if the restaurant is already fully booked but has an extra two seats (which is what happened the first time we ate here). this time, we were a group of 10 and we opted for the lechon-5-ways menu. (tip: give yourself at least four hours to sit and enjoy this meal. + 2 hours to get there + 2 hours to get back home = 8 hours. IOW, an entire day!)
claude's wife mary ann loves to entertain, so it always feels like you are a guest in their home. she goes from table to table to explain the food, give little historical tidbits, and oversee the service. and she remembers everyone's name!
so she tells us that before we eat oily pork, we have to line our stomach para hindi sumakit ang batok namin bukas haha.. you know how some people line their stomach with olive oil by drinking a tablespoonful before a night of drinking? well, this is the opposite. let us begin the, er, pigging out! first we are given a welcome drink of dalandan juice with ice cubes made with muscovado sugar, so as it melts it sweetens the juice. along with that, crackers and three dips—pesto with pili nuts, crab fat, and balobalo (fermented shrimp). we like to combine the pesto and crab fat:
the tasting menu begins with a thai-inspired cold sotanghon noodle dish, flavored with cilantro and soy-sauce-based sauce. very refreshing:
after that, we are served ensaladang pakô. mary ann tells us that when she was a child, this was the type of thing you serve your maids and drivers, never for guests. it was as common as weeds in the backyard. but today, pakô costs hundreds of dollars per kilo abroad!
then we get piniritong lumpiang ubod sa claude '9 oriental sauce, which is like patis flavored with thai basil, cilantro, and calamansi. there's a nice crunch inside care of the strip of fried fish:
if you like chicken inasal, you'll like their version, inasal na manok at claude '9 talangka rice. you're given just one stick of a chicken wing and a tiny cup of crab rice. the kapampangan style of cooking is to marinate in lemongrass and calamansi, but if you want a stronger flavor, dip it into vinegar:
finally, before the main course, you pop into your mouth a couple little sushis: talangka sushi and hito at balobalo sushi wrapped in mustasa leaves:
ok, time for serious eating! time for the main event! time for the best pig ever! full disclosure: we gave up pork in the year of the pig, which was in 2007, but when claude tayag serves you lechon 5 ways, you eat lechon 5 ways!
1. balat ng lechon at liver sauce. the sauce is homemade and you can see chunks of the liver, which makes it extra flavorful:
2. fried lechon flakes binalot sa tortilla at claude '9 oriental sauce. a lot like making peking duck rolls, but here the pork is shredded:
3. inihaw na tadyang na lechon. this isn't served with rice and most people might want it with this!
4. sinigang na lechon. this is served with rice wrapped in banana leaves. this dish was our favorite. we actually went back for a second bowl!
5. inasadong pata ng lechon. another nice-with-rice dish because of its sweetness, something that appeals to the filipino palate:
it isn't over yet! finally there's dessert called paradiso (christened by the late great food writer doreen fernandez), which is three little balls of ube, yema, and macapuno in a bed of pastillas de leche brûlée, washed down with kapeng sinaunang panahon:
the total bill for lechon 5 ways for 12 people is P17,500 (we still had to pay full price and divided it into 10, so our bill came to P1,750 per person). the juice is bottomless and there is no corkage if you wish to bring wine.
bale dutung is located at villa gloria subdivision, angeles, pampanga. for reervations, call/text (+63917) 535-9198,
(2) 6684038 or (2) 5024527, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. baledutung.com