Monday, November 12, 2012

Bale Dutung - The Anthony Bourdain Menu (July 2011)

My mother in law celebrated her 80th year. And it was a foodfest that went on for days. 

4 days after the sensory overload at Pinto Art Museum, 3 days after the pig out brunch at Legaspi Market, we were off to Angeles, Pampanga for another slow food experience. 

For most of us, this was our second time at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung.

After the first one, I swore I'll never come back. The 5-way lechon feast was a fabulous culinary experience, but that time at Bale Dutung was truly the most stuffed I've ever been in my lifetime, and we all know I have a pretty much world-record-able, bottomless esophagus with an amazing capacity for food. I felt then it was possible to die from too much food.

But like a lot of broken promises, when it comes to things that are too good for me, I had to swallow my oath and force myself to participate in this family activity. The sacrifices I make for my loved ones!

This time, with lessons learned, I knew I had to lay off the second servings of the dips and pace myself really well. And it's either my esophagus got longer, or I got smarter with food pacing, that I felt I just had the right amount of food. Well, right amount being still a thousand times above any daily recommended allowance.

Bale Dutung's house drinks with iced moscovado; that way the ice does not dilute the sweetness while it melts. 

This time, we had the menu that was served to Anthony Bourdain when he came to visit the Philippines. As such, these are their signature dishes, those that they feel best represent the richness of Philippine culture.

Claude and Mary Ann put a lot of thought into the planning of the menu, programming it to have a transition and build-up of flavors, with each dish more complex and more flavorful than the previous.  It started with the light and refreshing Pako (Fern) Salad, which was followed by the BBQ Paldeut (Chicken tail) with Lemon Grass Marinade served with Crab Fat Rice. 

The menu got heavier when they served the Adobong Pugo (Quail) and more complex when they gave us their version of Sushi, which used local ingredients like Crab Fat, Catfish, and Fermented Sauce.

The menu built up to even more complex, incredibly interesting, and flavorful dishes. Their take on the Lechon (Roasted Pig) is to shred and fry it to a golden crisp then wrap it in a soft tortilla together with varied flavors like kimchi, basil, onions, and salsa. This is a more generous version of the one they sell at Mercato because it's served buffet style and you're free to pile up the ingredients. Mine had lots and lots of basil.

By the time they served the Papaitan (Goat Stew), our palates were primed and ready for more exotic flavors.

To me, the most interesting dish was the Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tiyan ng Bangus, Ulang, Sugpo, at Tadyang na Baboy. (Milkfish belly, crayfish, prawns and spareribs) dipped in a thick, gooey bulanglang soup made of guava. And this is where fine cooking and excellent menu priming can open up your palate to appreciate flavors you won't normally like. I hate the taste and smell of guava, but I loved this dish. 

The savory segment is capped by the Kare Kare, gorgeous to look at, and incredibly delicious to eat. 

Serving Kare Kare is a tricky thing. Most people consider their family recipes as the best. And the standard for good Kare Kare is high in the Alampay-Sugue family. My mom in law Lydia's signature Kare Kare is made using traditional methods and is hard to beat by any restaurant version. Bale Dutung's gorgeous Kare Kare did not try to beat anyone's family version. This is just a different and utterly delicious take on the dish. The peanut in the sauce is not too finely and evenly ground. This, plus the coconut incorporated into the dish, gave it a very interesting texture. A wonderful climax to the menu's savory components.

Mary Ann Tayag still sets the bar for being the hostess with the mostest, ever gracious and ever ready to serve and to share fascinating information about Philippine food. 

The experience is again made richer by a peek at their home and the wonderful stories that accompany the viewing.

At the end of our long, satisfying lunch, Mary Ann brought a bilao (native platter) of Tibok-Tibok, something like the maja blanca but uses carabao's milik, with a birthday candle. 

Mommy blew her birthday candle and wished for a 3rd Bale Dutung visit. And I swear I'm coming with her on that 3rd trip.