Setting. Bale Dutung is tucked inside the quiet Villa Gloria Subdivision in Angeles City, Pampanga, over an hour’s drive away from Metro Manila. It feels more like a house than a restaurant since it is in fact, the house of chef-artist-writer entrepreneur Claude Tayag and his wife, Mary Ann. Bale Dutung is Kapampangan for wooden house. The dining area sits around 30 to 40 persons and is open on three sides, looking like a spruced-up silong (basement of the traditional Filipino house). The place has changed little since my last visit over a year ago. The hammocks are still there to tempt diners to take a break after all that feasting.
Food. Homemade. We were served the latest offerings from the Anthony Bourdain menu, who came for a meal in 2008. (Bourdain is the bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential, an inside look at the not-so-pretty side of the culinary world). For appetizers, we had the ensaladang pako (fiddle head fern salad) and the BBQ Paldeut at Claude 9 Talangka Rice (barbecued chicken tails with lemon grass marinade and crab fat rice). Next, we had the adobong pugo (quail, cooked with soy sauce ala adobo) and the hito at balo-balosushi (cat fish and crab fat sushi). The menu grows progressively heftier with the memorable lechon tortilla(crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla served with a special sauce). There’s little respite in between offerings as the Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus, Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy (soup soured with native guava and laden with milkfish belly, spare ribs and prawns) comes next before the sisig babi (sizzling pork served with onion and liver sauce). The Bone Collector (bone marrow in XO adobo sauce) is unique with a straw provided for sipping the contents of the marrow. For the finale, the menu gets a tweaking as we were served kare-kareng laman dagat (seafood in peanut sauce) instead of oxtail. For dessert, we had the tibok tibok (native treat made from pure carabao’s milk) with our coffee. The two other menu selections are Kapangpangan and Lechon Menu. I’ve always liked the food here and I wasn’t disappointed on my third visit. A lot of cooks and chefs have experimented with Filipino food but it seems to me that Chef Claude has mastered the art of tweaking traditional recipes so food tastes deliciously different yet familiar.
Service. Mary Ann is always on hand to explain each dish so diners can have a better appreciation of the flavors as well as the stories behind each dish. The assistants are efficient.
Who dines there. Mostly out-of-towners and foreigners/expats, and foodies curious about what made Anthony Bourdain drop by and visit.
Price. P1,850 (about US $43) per person for the Kapampangan and Anthony Bourdain Menu; P1,750 for the Lechon Menu. Minimum of 12 persons required for booking a 10-course lunch. Only lunch booking by prior reservation is accepted.
Verdict. A visit here isn’t just about the hearty eating; it’s also a gastronomical journey. Highly recommended.
Originally published in InFlight Traveller September 2012. Updated July 2015