Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Road Trip to Pampanga's Best (food!!)

With the global warming coming true to form, there's no longer a wet season here in the Philippines. It should be pouring by now but the weather is hot and sunny and good to take a road trip up North and experience the best of Pampanga, the gastronomical delights of the province.
We headed off to “Abe’s Farm” in Pampanga. It is located at the foot of Mt. Arayat, a 3,000-ft inactive volcano. Some friends dared to climb the mountain under the sweltering heat and left Manila at 5am. Its a good way to work up an apetite though and dip in the hot springs. While moi, decided to drive with Clang late in the afternoon to make it in time for dinner.
The farm is a private resthouse of Larry Cruz, famously known as “LJC” of the LJC restaurant chain. According to Evita (Quiambao), this is the first time he opened his farm to ‘non-friends’. He named the farm after his bon vivant and gastronome father Emilio Aguilar "Abe" Cruz (1915-1991).
The dinner was set up in the lower garden, surrounded by three ifugao houses. The blue and green colors reminded me of Provence. Must be from the father's influence since he was also the first pinoy francophile, being the UNSESCO ambassador based in Paris back in the 1970s.
I was expecting something more exotic and exciting dishes like betute (frog), kamaru (mole crickets) or burong talangka (crablets). We were served instead the usual fare – for starters, sisig (Pampanga after all is where Sisig was born!), crispy shrimps and fermented shrimp buro wrapped in mustard leaves.; then fiddlehead fern pako salad, crispy pata, a yummy chicken dish (everybody’s favorite), seafood kare kare and a stewed vegetabled dish; for desert, we had maja blanca, suman in sweet condensed milk and fresh fruits. The cost is P1750 per person for the meal (plus tip). Drinks were water and buko juice. Glen brought the red and white wine.
Another must-EAT reco in Pampanga is Claude Tayag’s Bale Dutung in Angeles City. I’ve been there twice and I assure you its worth the trip. Claude is truly a renaissance man - he is an artist/scupltor, writer and with his resto, he has proven that he can also cook! The place is actually his private home, gallery and studio located inside a subdivision. His wife Mary Ann manages the place and is in charge of setting up lunches and retailing “Claude 9” products –bottled products such as buro, taba ng talangka (crab fat), hot sauce, etc..
Lunch costs P1800 per head and is served buffet style (minimum of 12 persons). The dining area is filled with Claude’s sculptural furniture. His menu is more nouvelle cuisine. For appetizers, a platter of Kapampangan sushi, taba ng talangka (crab fat), fried catfish with fermented rice and shrimps, pindang balaw-balaw (carabeef meet);. The main course is quite a spread : sari-saring pruts (seasonal fruits in a light Thai dressing), sorbets sa dayap and champagne (sherbet), pako salad, lumpiang ubod, seafood kare-kare, 4-way lechon (i.e. crispy skin, fried lechon with soft tortilla, inihaw, sinigang; chiken wrapped in banana leaf and inasal pugo quail egg with mushrooms; and for desert his signature dish called ‘paradiso’ (macapuno, ube and kamote balls with cream of carabao’s milk). Free flowing water, soft drinks, buko juice, beer and wine.
Both places need prior reservations. Book in advance! Contact Merle (LJC) at 0917 899-7731 and Mary Ann (Claude) at (045) 888-5163. Happy road trip!!

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