Saturday, May 10, 2014

Pampanga Eats: Downtown 1956 Café by Bale Dutung

I'm ashamed to admit, I've never really gave Filipino food its due. A Filipino restaurant will be the last one on my list to try as I find most of the cuisine to be either too salty or sweet (and 90% pork-based) and mostly best enjoyed with a big bowl of rice. Sinigang just isn't the same with a loaf of sourdough bread, no matter how much I try to make it work.

My aversion to Filipino restaurants was more or less the case until I happened to switch the TV channel to TLC, where Anthony Bourdain was in Pampanga, eating his way around the city with his trusty guide as vigilant advocate of the local food and arts, Chef Claude Tayag. I learned more about my country's intricate and various cuisines watching his 15 minute segment than I did eating it at home - which is kind of embarrassing now that I come to think about it.

I had wanted to pay Chef Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, but we paid Chef Claude's  newest restaurant instead, Downtown 1956 Café by Bale Dutung, an homage to classic Filipino favorites executed with a Claude Tayag twist.

I love how the Downtown 1956 Café harks back to a bygone era in the Philippines, one I am too young to remember. Walking into the café and looking at all the little made me think, "Is this what Pampanga and Manila would have looked like back in the day?" The exterior was decorated with cleaned lines and retro booths while a black and white checkered floor and wrought iron chairs filled the inside of the place. All that was missing was an old jalopy and a Filipino looking Archie. Or would it be Artemio?

I found these old posters that decorated the walls simply fascinating! Not only were cigarettes 50 cents a pack (not that I smoke), but seeing advertisements from the '60s just made me think of my dad and the era he grew up in. I wonder, were there Filipina feminists back in the day? The Philippines was, first and foremost, a matriarchal society, until the Spaniards came over with their friars and botched things up. Did we get over our helpless Maria Clara syndrome by then or were we still re-realizing that our role in society was a lot more than being delegated to the home? I looked at Claude's wife and thought, "Well, she's pretty badass. So that says a lot."

Chef Claude and his beautiful wife played host to our hungry group of foodies, and were gracious enough to have us try some of the dishes they had at their newest establishment.

While waiting for our first few dishes, we tucked into a few plates of lightly salted Camote Chips. They were just fried, although not at all oily, and are 100% organic and locally sourced - as the husband and wife team strive to be an example to others about the whole 'tangkilikin ang sariling atin' philosophy.

For starters, there was this simple but amazing Ensaladang Pako (P180)I've had fiddlehead fern salad in Metro Manila, but I've never had them this green and fresh! What makes this salad really special is the mango-dalandan vinaigrette that comes with it.

Another simple starter is Trianggulo (P225) that uses a skin of spring roll wrappers filled with flaky tinapa, spinach, and pili nuts fashioned in a triangle, served with tomato sofrito on the side.

Another classic Filipino dish with a Claude Tayag twist is the Lumpiang Hubad (P140), fresh vegetables on bright green leaves of romaine lettuce with crispy wonton strips on top.

I had a little bit of the Talangka Rice with Crablets (P238), but I could've just gone without it with all the amazing dishes the Tayags put out for us.

I fell in love with Chef Claude's Crispy Aromatic Duck (P620)! Basically Peking Duck with a dash of Pinoy ingenuity (and Chef Claude's 9 spice dry rub), this is served with a mango salsa, Chinese pancakes, shredded cucumber, and hoisin sauce.

You get a little bit of the duck, a little bit of the cucumber, wrap that baby up tight with a little bit of mango salsa on one side and hoisin on the other, and et voila! This is something I'd definitely recommend to anyone who finds themselves at Downtown 1956 Café!

I had never seen Bringhe (P280) before - a Kapampangan delicacy - and was surprised to discover it was some kind of rice pizza - like if Pizza Hut had a dirty, dirty affair with Alba then proceeded to hide their love baby up in Pampanga. Each slice has both equal part of sticky rice yuminess and a crunchy, toasty bottom. The sprinkling of bell peppers, raisins, pork, chorizo, and quail eggs make this so addicting!

The Tilapia Fillets with Burong Hipon (P250) looked really good from afar, but then I got a whiff of the burong hipon and it kind of turned my stomach, so I passed on this. I love my bagoong and other stinky Asian delicacies, but this just made me cringe. Bleh.

We had Halo-Halo (P120) for dessert, which was just the thing one needed in this heat. Downtown 1956 Café does a fairly simple one, with the Claude Tayag twist - gobstoppingly delicious Crema de Pastillas, carabao milk that tastes like pastillas. This stuff came in little drip things and was liquid gold. We ended up dripping it down the back of our throats instead of on the halo-halo. Haha!

Before we left, Claude's wife, Maryann, introduced us to their version of an Ice Lollies (P90). Done in true Kapampangan form, she shared that as a little girl growing up, they would always make these fruit salad ice drops using whatever fruits were in season, cream, and around 80 egg yolks. The end result was a very rich and creamy ice pop with buko shavings, nata de coco, and all the other sweet stuff you can find in a fruit salad cocktail tin, with the ice drop itself being as yellow as that of yema. Her husband sort of perfected the recipe, and thankfully uses less than almost 100 eggs. This is definitely the best ice lolly I have ever had in my life!

Thank you to the beautiful couple, Chef Claude and Maryann Tayag, not only for accommodating my food family and I, but also for playing host to us Manileños. I have once again learned a ton about our local cuisine from you and am quite looking forward to finally visiting Bale Dutung the next time I find myself in Pampanga.

When mucking around Angeles City, ask directions (or just Waze) for Nepo Quad and look for Downtown 1956 Café by Bale Dutung. This makes for a good jumping off point if you haven't been exposed to classic Filipino food before, and also gives you a deeper appreciation of what our local produce has to offer. I will definitely be back to try the Pato Tim, Lechon Taco, and Pan de Bagnet!

Just mucking around Manila,
Follow @_muckingaround on Twitter and Instagram.
Like the Mucking Around Manila fan page.

Downtown 1956 Café by Bale Dutung
+63 917 535 9198
1B Plaridel St, Nepo Quad
Angeles City, Pampanga
Open Daily: 10am - 10pm