Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bale Dutung

The "decathlon" of dining experiences.

That's how I'd describe Claude Tayag's menu at Bale Dutung, the restaurant my clique of museum hoppers chose as our splurge destination this year for our June 19th culture and food field trip. Yes, I drove all the way to Angeles City, Pampanga to eat at Chef Claude's well-known restaurant. It's also, I think, the epitome of Kapampangan cuisine. 

This trip was two years in the making. Man, JP, and I stumbled upon Bale Dutung when we went to the 2013 Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival in Clark Field, Pampanga. Our wallets were not prepared for such decadence so we ate somewhere else. Since then, Bale Dutung was in my and in Man's restaurant bucket list. It finally became a reality this year. And it certainly was worth the wait.

We were welcomed into the very airy abode of the Tayags, with a bigger group composed of Xavier School alumni. This was their daddies'-day-out, complete with a road trip, a museum tour, and a hearty lunch before the main event... It was very similar to our day! But these dads were taking Sunday off too because they were teeing off at sunrise at Mimosa Country Club. And what a fun group they were! Instead of the usual restaurant dining experience, I felt that we were in a big party at someone's house because the dads were also talking with us during the four-hour dinner.

Back to us... The probinsyanas and the probinsyano were wowed by the table setting. One day, I will have a big dining room and will entertain guests this way too. 

Indeed, that's how we felt. Mary Ann, Claude's wife, hosted the dinner for us. She introduced our ten-course dinner, assuring us that we can go for seconds but with a caveat: we could only go back to the courses we liked to try again after we have finished our first tour of the degustation menu. She also discussed how the different dishes were prepared, which condiments paired best with which dish, and how we were supposed to eat some of the dishes (i.e., by hand, how to mix deconstructed dishes, etc). What I liked most about this dinner was that I needed to fully disclose my food allergies... They prepared versions of the seafood dishes that I could eat (the allergenic ingredients were replaced). I didn't feel deprived at all!

Dinner was a tour of the different flavours that a gastronomic experience in the Philippines could bring. We started off light with pako salad, followed by savouries, culminating with seafood kare-kare that previously wowed Anthony Bourdain. Dinner was finished off with tea (for me) and coffee for Man, Ate Mary, and Ate Bing. Plus our dessert. By the time we arrived at the tenth course, I certainly had no room for seconds. Bellies full, we were ready to take the long drive home. But Claude and Mary Ann, true hospitable Filipino hosts that they are, gave us tamales as baon to eat on the road in case we get hungry. Yes; just in case.

What this vehicle said is true:

How are we supposed to top this off next year?!?