Considering the fact that Anthony Bourdain had to travel thousands of miles to feast at Bale Dutung, Happyfoodies’ return trip to the wooden house in Angeles City was comparatively, a small sacrifice. Nay, call it miniscule especially considering the gustatory reward which is, following the Kapampangan stereotype, lavish.
While it’s intriguing to find out the aspects of the Filipino/Kapampangan cuisine which appealed to Bourdain, it’s also interesting to find out if the food (and the eating experience) has changed or remained the same in between visits (which can either be good or bad depending the diner and his/her past experience here).
We came on a Saturday, running late at nearly one o’clock on the tail-end of a storm. Our friends from the Angeles City tourism office kept us company and approaching the house in Villa Gloria subdivision, we can already hear the merry clatter of dishes. Coming into the dining area, we were greeted by the sight of about 30 diners. This was the largest group we’ve come across here. So will this impact on the taste of the food? Water down the presentation? Alter the dining experience?
Fortunately, Chef Claude Tayag was more than up to the task. He’s a maverick long before Pinoy food became the subject of many a chef’s experimentation. His wife, Mary Anny, was maybe a bit flustered at the sheer number of the diners but experienced hostess that she is, she was able to keep the diners entertained and the dining intimate.
Eat. Weigh. Gab. For appetizers, the Ensaladang Pako (Fiddle Head Fern Salad) was wonderfully sweet-sour akin to the atchara, a marked contrast to the BBQ Paldeut at Claude 9 Talangka Rice (Barbecued Chicken Tails with Lemon Grass Marinade and Crab Fat Rice) which was a medley of lemony (tanglad) and decadent (aligue). The Adobong Pugo (Quail cooked ala Adobo) was light yet flavorful. The same can be said of the Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi (Cat Fish and Crab Fat Sushi) which came next.
Personally, the Lechon Tortilla (Crispy Roast Pork Flakes on a Tortilla Served with a Special Sauce) was the highlight of the exquisite ten-course feast. Having tasted many variations of lechon before, this came as a delightful surprise. Deep-fried to a crisp, flaked, drenched in a special sauce and wrapped in a soft shell — this was a high point. If the feast ended with this, I’ll be happy to get a second or third helping.
But Bale Dutung is not particularly known for modest eating, hence the need for pacing oneself (the penalty of eating too much too soon is missing out on the rest of the glorious eating). The Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus, Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy (Soup Soured with Native Guava laden with Milkfish Belly, Prawns and Spare Ribs) is what Claude calls “Bayabaise” or local bouillabaise. The soup base is thick, viscous and fruity — a timely break for the taste buds as there’s a bit more to come. There’s the decidedly less oily iteration of the Kapampangan sisig, Sisig Babi (Sizzling pork served with onion and liver sauce), the Bone Collector (bone marrow in XO adobo sauce) which came with a straw for those inclined to sip the marrow. Mercifully, we were were served the Kare-Kareng Laman Dagat (Seafood in peanut sauce) instead of the oxtail variation. We get to wash down all those rich flavors with Tibok Tibok (native treat from carabao’s milk) and barako coffee. By this time, the satiety is akin to inebriation, a wonderful kind of intoxication.
Gustatory Tour. In the restaurant circuit, one can only be novel for but a very short time. The wonderful thing about Bale Dutung is its ability to surprise even the repeat visitor, like making it seem like one is tasting a familiar dish for the very first time. We saw foreign guests among the diners and for some of them, I guess this is a delicious introduction to Filipino cuisine. To the local diner, the big draw is of course, the wealth of flavors presented in happy succession. The other draw is the way the food is presented — beautifully served complete with the backstories that inspired a particular dish and perhaps, because Claude is first and foremost an artist, the flavors are dramatically unfolded so that one builds on the one before it. The ambiance of dining in a real, honest-to-goodness wooden house helps in completing the dining experience, making it not just sensory but should I say, cultural. In a world of homogeneous fastfood and fickle eaters, Bale Dutung is a throwback to the dining experience of old with just a nice balance of tweaks. The familiar becomes a source of new-found appreciation in a gustatory tour that is a feast to the eyes, filling to the stomach and enriching for the soul.
Villa Gloria Subdivision
Angeles City • Mobile 0917.5359198
Landline (632) 668.4038