Thursday, December 5, 2013

Filipino Culinary Pride: Bale Dutung

On our office team building-slash-field trip, we went to visit Chef Claude Tayag's restaurant in Pampanga, Bale Dutung.

Dining in Bale Dutung is a special experience. Not just because Chef Claude Tayag is one of the best chefs in the country but also because you can't get in without a reservation. They only cater to groups so it's not one of those places you go to on a whim. The reason for this is that it is a gastronomic experience that incorporates food, history and culture in one sit down meal.
The 12-course meal (including drinks and dessert) is curated by Chef Claude's wife, Mary Ann. It is a 4-hour meal where they take you through ten amazing dishes which is complemented by 3 different drinks that appear at a seemingly well-orchestrated schedule. The whole experience is like a symphony-- a theatrical performance, truly an art form in itself.

I am vegetarian so my menu varied a bit from what they had. I am so grateful for Chef Claude though for being so accommodating and making sure that even if I had a tofu/vegetable version of the dishes he served, I still didn't miss out on the taste. For purposes of of this post, I'll post first the photo of the "original" dish followed by the vegetarian version. I shall post the food items in the same order they were served.

Drink 1: Dalandan-Salabat Juice

My favorite drink! What makes this special is that it has muscovado ice which is basically muscovado sugar that's diluted and frozen. It is so good! Didn't want to finish this drink off. It was too good!

Appetizer: Crackers with pesto, aligue and buro
I only tasted the pesto which is also also really good. But I hear the aligue + pesto combination was super!

Dish 1: Ensaladang Pako
I am already a big fan of pako so this was a no brainer for me. For those who is familiar with pako, it's actually a fern. What used to be a poor man's ingredient is now seen as one of the more expensive greens in the market today. I personally only know three restaurants that carry pako in their menu (and the restaurants are even under the same chain). The interesting thing abotu this salad is that it has quail eggs when I'm normally used to having pako with salted egg. The quail eggs however was an excellent choice because the vinaigrette tasted perfectly with the boiled egg.

Dish 2: Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa Claude '9 Oriental Sauce
 Wow. Just wow. If you think lumpia is common, you've obviously never tasted Chef Claude's version! OMG. I tell you were all having a "commercial" moment with this dish! No one spoke, there was only sounds-- "mmmmmmm" "aaaaaaaaah" "oooooh". Each of us putting our best "commercial-worthy" reaction.

Dish 3: Inasal na Manok at Claude '9 Talangka Sushi

My version, which was inasal tofu was beyond words. I couldn't believe I was eating inasal again! It tasted like inasal! I loved it sooooo much! This is one of my favorites! I couldn't stop raving about it. So good! Best inasal everrr.

Dish 4: Adobong Pugo

Honestly my colleagues didn't even want to eat this at first because the quail looked so pitiful on that plate. But after taking their first bite, they forgot they pitied the bird and devoured it mouthfuls. Me on the other hand got a tofu adobo, which again blew me away! It's been so long since I tasted adobo done this way. It's very traditional-- with the laurel leaves and sourness of the vinegar. The pandesal was equally delicious! It was our favorite because it was so good! 

Dish 5: Hito at balo-balo sushi

My vegetarian version looks a little sad but it's not as boring as you'd think. It's actually sushi with egg. Can't quite tell what it is but it's definitely not just rice.

Dish 6: Fried lechon flakes binalot sa tortilla at Claude '9 oriental sauce (Lechon Taco)

For this dish, we had to get up and fill our own tacos, buffet style. My version of the lechon was fried tofu strips and I also had a special sauce which is a version of Chef Claude's oriental sauce less the anchovy. This is another amazing dish! Everyone was gushing over this and was already planning to get seconds while still on their first bite.

Dish 7: Bulanglang Kapampangan na may tiyan ng bangus, ulang at tadyang ng baboy

This is supposed to be the "main dish" but of course at this point we were already so full that all of them seemed like the main dish. This one is interesting because the soup is poured in front of you. I had purely vegetables of course but I hear that the seafood and other animal products in the dish were superb!
Dish 8: Begucan Tenga ng Babi at Ensaladang Talong

The two photos look almost the same but mine is a tofu version. This is another favorite! The tofu sat on top of a slice of salted egg and grilled eggplant. It so phenomenal! I couldn't believe I was eating eggplant. It tasted so different. The flavor was just elevated. I have no words.

Dish 9: Kare-kareng Laman Dagat

This, my friends is the reason why Chef Claude Tayag is one of the best in the country. Thiiiiiissssss. OMG. Super good! I've never had kare-kare done this way! It's no wonder everyone's raving about it. 

Dish 10: Paradiso

My utmost favorite! Paradiso!!! It's pastillas, ube and macapuno on a bed of carabao's milk brulee. Pair it with coffee with carabao's milk and man I tell you, you will reach food nirvana! This is where the "commercial" moments were elevated 10 times. I had no words for this. I couldn't even think straight. It was too good! Truly unique. It's one of those things that you would have to try to understand because words will not be enough-- and I'm not just saying that. I really am left speechless.
I understand now why there are hammocks in Bale Dutung-- food coma after that 10-course meal!
Thank you so much Chef Claude Tayag and Ms. Mary Ann for being such gracious hosts! I personally am touched that you prepared vegetarian versions of everything. I also love that Mary Ann approached me and said that they wanted me to not feel left out so they made vegetarian versions of everything so I could experience what the others are experiencing. Thank you, thank you for being amazing hosts! What an experience! I feel even more prouder now of Filipino cuisine! Cheers to culinary diplomacy! Cheers to Filipino food! And most of all, cheers to the Chef!

For more information on Bale Dutung, visit their website at 

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