Monday, August 5, 2013

Lechon Degustation at Bale Dutung

Bale Dutung or House of Wood is the residence of Chef Claude and Mary Ann Tayag. Claude is an accomplished artist, chef and author while Mary Ann is a gracious, engaging and endearing host. This talented tandem has created an out-of-the-ordinary dining destination in their Angeles abode.

Entering the Tayag’s home is a multi-sensory experience, a lush garden and the tranquil sounds of nature welcome the guests and set the ambiance for an unforgettable epicurean experience.

Photos of famous celebrity chefs and foodies who have dined in Bale Dutung (Anthony Bourdain, Simon Majumbdar, Rocco DiSpirito and Jeffrey Steingarten) caught my eye as we entered the Silong or  open ground floor area of their home where the restaurant is located. I immediately noticed that it is the couple’s attention to detail that sets this place apart, we appreciated the personalized menu on our table and purposefully placed antiques that surrounded us.

Reviewing the 11-course menu, I thought to myself, this is not a feast for the faint hearted so I braced myself for some serious eating …

We began the degustation with crackers and a trio of spreads: Basil Pili Nut Pesto, Taba Ng Talangka (crab roe) and Balobalo (fermented rice and shrimp paste) accompanied by a refreshing glass of Dalandan Juice with Muscovado ice cubes that slowly melted to sweeten the drink (I’m definitely going to try this at home!). I enjoyed the distinct flavor of each spread and how each flavor complements the other.

Next on the menu was a delightfully light Ensaladang Pako or Fiddlehead fern salad with a honey calamansi dressing, picked quail egg and sweet raw onions. I rarely find Fiddlehead ferns in my salad, apparently these ferns grow abundantly in Pampanga and are a popular salad staple.

Piniritong Lumpia Ubod sa Claude9 Oriental sauce (Fried heart of palm spring roll) was served after the salad course. We were instructed to wrap the lumpia with lettuce, this combination made for a fresh and crisp bite. I had this with a glass of Salabat Juice (Ginger Juice). 

The next dish excited my Ilonggo palate. They served Inasal na Manok at Talangka Sushi (Grilled Chicken with Crab Roe Sushi). This Visayan grilled chicken delicacy is close to my heart because I grew up in Bacolod and we are proud of our inasal recipes.  I enjoyed the well-marinated grilled chicken wing and crunchy skin. The crab roe sushi was a delectable accompaniment.

The Hito and Balobalo Sushi (Catfish with fermented rice and shrimp paste wrapped in Mustard leaves) is a modern Filipino take on the Japanese maki using native mustasa leaves to wrap the rice and catfish. The combination of the Balobalo, catfish and rice was deliciously different. 

When the Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce (Roasted Pig Skin with Liver Sauce) was served, I realized this was the reason we drove two hours for our Sunday lunch. The lechon skin was perfectly golden brown and crunchy complemented by the homemade sweet and savory liver lechon sauce. The whole roasted pig was displayed in all its glory. We excitedly approached the carving station as Chef Claude served the lechon.

Fried Lechon Flakes Binalot sa Tortilla (Fried Roasted Pig Wrapped in Flour Tortilla) was one of my favorite dishes of the day. Guests were invited to make their own lechon taco. You can’t really go wrong  wrapping deep fried pulled pork strips in a flour tortilla. I topped my taco with cilantro leaves and a drizzle of the cilantro-basil sauce. It was a flavor explosion! the cilantro-basil sauce and fresh cilantro brought this dish to another level.

Siningang na Lechon was also served to the guests liking, with an assortment of vegetables to go with this popular pork soup and a side of white rice or brown rice wrapped in banana leaves (nice touch). A side of tamarind juice was available for those who wanted their broth extra tangy.

The Inihaw na Tadyang na Lechon at Ensaladang Talong (Grilled Lechon Ribs with Eggplant Salad) was my favorite dish of the day! The ribs are the best part of the lechon and at Bale Dutung they kicked up the flavor another notch by grilling the ribs.  Needless to say, I went back for seconds.  

Our lechon degustation would not have been complete without Pampanga’s famous pork sisig. Bale Dutung’s Sisig Ulo ng Lechon (Lechon Head Sisig) is less fatty because excess fat is removed from the head before it is chopped up and fried. Sinfully sumptuous served with a side of roasted pig’s brain and liver. These crispy, chewy bites of pork heaven were to die for!

The Kare Kareng Laman Dagat (Seafood in peanut-based Stew) was beautifully presented to our table. This famous Filipino fare was included in our menu upon special request with some oohs and aahs from other guests who were wondering why we had another course when they were all enjoying dessert and coffee. This kare kare was one of the best I’ve ever had.  The cuttlefish, mussels and prawns were cooked to perfection in a rich broth of ground peanuts, coconut milk, crab roe and bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). 

Our 11-course meal came to a close with a serving of Paradiso (Paradise) which was a dessert sampler featuring three popular native delicacies: Ube (purple yam), Yema (milk and egg custard) and Macapuno (coconut) served atop a thick cr√®me brulee custard made with Carabao’s milk. We savored our dessert with unlimited cups of Sinaunang Kape (Old-fashioned coffee) with fresh Carabao’s Milk and Tsaang Pandan (Tea made with Pandan leaves).

There's a delightful tradition at Bale Dutung where all guests are asked to take a photo with Chef Claude and Mary Ann. We were then invited to write a message in Bale Dutung’s guest book to immortalize this memorable Sunday lunch. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really the attention to detail that impressed me about this place.

Chef Claude and Mary Ann Tayag wowed us one plate at a time. This was definitely worth the two-hour drive and an item to be added to any foodie’s bucket list.

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