Bale Dutung: a case for excellent dining experience

I do not normally write about restaurants except for when I take photos of the good food I discover along the way. Add to that checking into restaurants I like whenever I get to try them out. Other than that, I do not typically write about them only because the web is already filled with many restaurant reviews some from real foodies, some from the occasional foodie and some who have been paid to write fake reviews.

Bale Dutung is quite the exception though because it sets the bar really high in terms of providing their dining guests a superior dining experience that’s worth the 95Km drive from Manila.

Rhex first brought me to Bale Dutung in 2011 on our way to Baguio. It was our first time to try their famous 10 course degustation with a feature on enjoying lechon in five ways. We visited Bale Dutung again in 2012 to try their Kapampangan menu, also a 10 course degustation that’s not just about lechon.

Today, we brought my dad who’s visiting from the US to Bale Dutung, which for Rhex and I a third time to dine there. And all three visits have been nothing but excellent. In my opinion, Bale Dutung has cracked the perfect recipe for making people happy through a memorable culinary experience.

Yes, of course, it is the food by Chef Claude Tayag that draws us to Bale Dutung despite our self-imposed strict low calorie diets. All 10 courses are paired with hefty servings of trivia, stories, and perspective from Mary Ann Tayag, the chef’s wife. She patiently walks you through the challenging 10 courses of the meal. She actually tells everyone that her job is to make sure she gets to take their guests to the last course. I will write more about Mary Ann later. We had the lechon degustation today and each dish served was a delight.

Secondly, ambiance couldn’t be better. You will enjoy your degustation in an al fresco setting. First time we went there, it was so hot they had to place huge blocks of ice in front of industrial fans. So, it is best to come in light, casual, summer-ready clothes. The restaurant is set at the open air ground floor of a traditional Filipino right next to a garden. Place has a good mix of antique furniture and decor which Mary Ann says Claude loves to collect.

Third and most important reason why I think Bale Dutung is a great case for excellent dining experience is the woman behind the success of the chef — Mary Ann Tayag. She calls herself as the “serbidora” in charge of making sure you enjoy the food they have passionately prepared for their guests down to the last dish of 10 courses. She welcomes each group that arrives smartly, professionally and at the same time in a very personal way. When you’re booking, she would ask for the complete names of those in the party. As we have built some rapport with her, and this being our 3rd time to visit, today, she went straight to our table, sat down and caught up with us like we were some old friends whom she hasn’t seen in a long time. Sharing stories and insights is her strong suit. A former flight attendant before discovering her passion for food and her husband, she knows how to carry a good conversation never making you feel awkward with all the attention she gives you. She has so much to say about food and the food business. She trots around the floor to talk to the other guests making sure they are enjoying their time at their home. She uses a portable PA system to talk about the background of the dish they are serving and tips on how to enjoy them. But just like good friends, she joined our table to eat with us after going around other guests’ tables. There are also a few little details that add to the very personal touch of Bale Dutung: your assigned table comes with a degustation menu card personalised with the names of the people in the party, official photo op with the chef for their collection along with a guestbook that’s passed around for giving feedback or immortalising the memorable dish which also has the pictures of those who dined with them that day.

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In my opinion, Bale Dutung won’t have the same experience without Mary Ann which gives their good food, great ambiance an irreplaceable unique personal touch. Chef Claude came out to meet the guests and join them in group photos and later on joined our table for our own photo as well. Rhex tells me that Chef Claude came straight to him to shake his hand perhaps recognising that this is already our 3rd time to visit as though he knew Rhex personally well by now. Mary Ann walked with us to our car then, like old friends, we beso before saying goodbye. When we get married, we are hoping to invite her to become one of our ninangs.

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Top tips:

1. Come early or be on time. The degustation doesn’t start if other tables are not yet filled with guests who have made the reservation. Sometimes, late guests are also indirectly called out by Mary Ann.

2. Rhex and I love the lechon menu. If you want the best of both the lechon and Kapampangan menus, opt for the Anthony Bourdain menu. Note though you sometimes have to go along with what menu has been requested by the largest group in the party.

3. Buy their homemade bagoong. It is the best bagoong out there. And you can’t buy it from the supermarket which already sells Claude’s sauces.

4. Take San Fernando exit. We like this better than the Angeles Exit.

5. Book ahead. Mary Ann has already said no to some presidents because schedules didn’t match.

Bale Dutung is a 1.5hr drive from Manila and can be found on most GPS apps. Address is Paul and Francis Streets, Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga. It is worth the full tank and saving an entire day for the experience. Reserve at (045) 6250169.

71 Gramercy: hot and not

I wanted to write about my experience at this new place last night, but then I am stopping myself from ranting through my blog. I am just going to charge last night’s table reservation brouhaha to how busy the place was because of Valentine’s Day, Payday and Friday all rolled into one recipe for a crazy, busy night for the staff.

What I love about this place is that it gives Manila a different flavour aided by a stunning view of the city from an awesome vantage point. It is a good place to celebrate a busy week with friends and drinks are not that expensive.

How I wish though that the place — and the people that go there — didn’t have so much pretension that could kill real, good fun.

But maybe any club (or lounge) is the perfect place for it. You just have to ignore it and focus on having fun with the real people you are partying with.

Good thing I was with great company last night enough for me to chalk up the kinks of this place to experience. I’d still go there for a refreshing (and often inspiring) view of our fast rising city.

The road to stardom

Whenever I go through my feeds, I couldn’t help but realise how social media has truly created new stars out of rather ordinary people. I have nothing against it — everyone has an equal right to be noticed and get famous but sometimes I wonder if our generation now has a rather empty or shallow concept of popularity.

Back then, to be popular, you really had to be absolutely awesome in your own little way to become famous may it be that you are a magazine cover material, supremely the best in your field bagging lots of awards and besting out equally deserving competitors, or you had a wonderful talent worth talking about. 

Popular people back then, I would say, had substance to back their fame. 

Today, with enough money to throw and attend parties, endless cocktails, and invest in an extensive wardrobe running on credit and borrowed influence through association, plus social media and the endless projection of this self-organised fame, you can be almost a star.

You will get media coverage, earn a front row seat of a first night event plus one, a lot of freebies and a whole acre of “followers” who adore the image you have successfully created for yourself. And more. But I am not one to judge those I follow, I say. I just feel that what’s missing in most of what is being projected today in social media is real (no matter how raw) talent.  There is a big opportunity to raise the quality of those we follow today and I look forward to that day.

There’s always something good of today’s many stars that pepper the scene. For me though, they make my feeds more interesting and colourful. 

Anyway, if you are interested in becoming a star, here are the typical patterns I’ve seen from those I follow who are now winning, shining stars (in their own little or biiig ways):

Attend parties. If you want to be a star, you need to be at parties hobnobbing with the city’s hottest names in the scene. The bigger the influence of the people you hang with, the bigger yours gets too! Start by paying for your own entrance first or get on a promoter’s guest list. Then network from there. Later on, you will get invited to jump queue and zap your way past the velvet rope bouncers. Do this regularly because remember, in the social scene, out of sight, out of mind.

Invest in a good wardrobe and regular visits to your hygienists and aestheticians. Of course, you need to look your great self when those photos are taken. You may also want to bask in the sun to get that Labor Day tan that often becomes a conversation starter in parties. Others will adore you for your tan secretly. The point is to be admired and desired. So go all out on this one.

Regularly post on Instagram and Twitter. Remember, in the scene, perception is reality so the more you project, the more solid perception becomes. Be selective in what you post, though. Choose ones that show you at your best taken at the best possible places with the best possible people. You wouldn’t want to compromise on this one. Earn your followership and fan base. This is the biggest form of validation for rising stars today. Always get famous people to tag you on their Instagram posts so their own fans will, by way of association, follow you back as well. This is the beginning of your social media fame.

I always get a kick out of reading my feeds — especially on Instagram and Twitter — where I see the brightest personal stars out there today then I realise that maybe there is a pattern common to all of them. And it has always been worth writing about or sharing over dinner which typically opens with “have you seen person x’s post?” then you can expect a good 15 minutes of talk to follow.

Shine bright like a diamond!

Bobby turns eight

 

Bobby is a miracle dog, perhaps one of the few who have survived a slipped disc common to dachshunds. Yesterday, he turned eight. He is healthy and still the most charming dog, a best friend to me, I’ve ever known or taken care of.

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He celebrated his eighth with two of his favourite treats: Brie and a plate of caramel popcorn. He later on had beef stew for dinner. It is wonderful being with Bobby, he is a constant reminder of unconditional love to us at home.

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Happy birthday, my love.

Reviving my site for the umpteenth time

I remember writing voraciously on LiveJournal more than a decade ago. Maybe because I had so much time then. With youth comes a lot of time one can spare for “fun” things to do like writing on your own blog. Also I think Facebook and Instagram sort of killed long form writing. Oh and Twitter, too. There used to be pleasure in writing in complete sentences, captioning photos and leaving a trail of comments behind. People had longer opinions back then. Today, opinion comes in 140 characters or less. Or in one photo rendered in a preloaded filter.

Having gone 10 years older when I started writing online, I feel I no longer have that much time to write. It does not mean that I have much less fun things to write about, it’s just that my daily routine no longer has that luxury for writing. I realise, however, that my writing style has improved so much and it would be a pity if that’s only put to good use only when writing office emails. Besides, I think I have so much more to write about these days may it be about things I have grown to love even more or even work that seems to have given birth to a lot of thoughts left unsaid because maturity requires that some are not even said; maybe they are better written. With or without an audience.

So here I am again, trying to revive my writing on a blog. It is high time I write because I might not have all the fresh brain cells in the world to remember everything. So I better start writing again.

Welcome (back) to my blog that will journal my 30s. That’s me giving myself a warm welcome and hopefully I get to write regularly — even if not on a daily basis — and if you happen to stumble upon this, then I welcome you as well.