43 Café

Special thanks to 43 Café for extending this food review invitation.

43 Café is a house-cum-eatery near the Sungai Dua entrance of USM. This award-winning eatery started as one of Penang's pioneers of pork burgers in 2013, but has since migrated to fusion cuisine. According to the founder, the restaurant strives to use natural ingredients in its food preparation. For example, no MSG is added to the food.
The meal starts with Sesame Salad (RM8.50) as appetizer. Romaine lettuce, red cabbage and julienned carrots are dressed with roasted sesame dressing. Oat Krunch cracker crumbs are added to provide some crisp.
Inspired by an egg recipe popularized by students of Chung Ling High School, the Egg Pecah Toast (RM3.50) takes advantage of the runny state of an egg, served over a slice of toasted bread. The egg is seasoned with chili paste and scallions.
Nom Nom Nom is one of my favorite dishes tonight. Each skewer contains a lean cut of fresh pork, marinated with lemongrass sauce to give exceptionally succulent flavors. This dish is priced at RM1.20 per skewer and has minimum order of 5 skewers.
Fork Pork Blanket (RM18.00) is the remnant of the original signature dish. A lovely slice of pork shoulder is dry-rubbed and slow-cooked for 8 hours to allow its flavors to develop fully. The patty is sandwiched by two halves of a sesame bun. Also included in the burger are bacon strips, cherry tomatoes, onion rings and lettuce leaves.
Inspired by the Ohioan meat sauce for hot dogs and spaghetti, the Cincinnati Chili Pork Pasta (RM19.80) uses bell peppers in lieu of chili peppers to suit the local palate. Personally, I would have preferred chili peppers in line with the original American recipe. Having said so, the use of corkscrew-shaped fusilli allows seasoning to penetrate the pasta more thoroughly. A raw egg on top serves to form thick emulsion when mixed with pasta thoroughly.
Next, Smoked Duck Pasta (RM24.80) uses a special infusion of ceps and balsamic vinaigrette to impart appetizing flavors to the pasta. Al dente spaghetti is further paired with gratifying slices of smoked duck and a raw egg yolk. This dish is noticeably drier than the previous one, but its delightful appeal allows it to stand in its own right.
Moving on, Sous-Vide Chicken Deluxe (RM25.80) features an entire piece of chicken breast, cooked in an airtight plastic bag and immersed in a water bath of precisely 60oC. To compensate for significantly lower temperature often used to cook chicken, sous-vide method requires several hours of heating such that chicken tissues become cooked without disintegrating. As a result, the chicken retains most of its jus, which explains its "wetter" appearance when cut.
The chicken is dressed with onion sauce of creamy consistency, which I think is on the saltier side but is necessary to season the inner sections of the chicken. Butterfly cut is not used so that the chicken breast keeps its moisture intact. A slice of cheese is placed on top, though I think I would have preferred without it. This dish is served with potato salad and garden greens on the side. Although the texture of chicken may alienate some, I think it is an interesting experience for a change.

The next delicacy is Dry-Aged Pork Steak (RM28.80). The pork steak is grilled to perfection, then served alongside homemade garlic sauce. Although the pork is extremely succulent, the creamy garlic sauce also deserves due recognition in the overall appeal. Meanwhile, potato salad and garden greens are served on the side.
Dry-aging, also called hanging, is a process in which meat is hung in an environment of controlled temperature and humidity. During this process, lactic acid produced during the meat's anaerobic state breaks down protein in the muscle tissues, releasing amino acids which improve savoriness of the meat. During the process, the pork shrinks by 30% as it loses moisture to the atmosphere.

As for beverage, Tomato Plum Juice (RM5.00) is one of the recommended ones at 43 Café. Made from fresh tomatoes, the juice appears separated due to "cold breaking". Unlike commercially-canned tomato juice, slower cooking process allows enzymes to break down cellular walls, therefore separating the watery and thicker contents of the fruit. Apart from aesthetic differences, separated and homogenous tomato juice do not have noticeably different taste.
Made from raw ginger, pandan juice and red dates, Ginger Tea (RM4.00) is a drink of extremes. On one hand, some people are immediately turned away by its intensely pungent aftertaste. On the other hand, others derive pleasure from the warming sensation on the palate. I think the iced version is a nice compromise as its icy state helps to negate some pungency.
One of 43 Café's specialties is its Homemade Ice Scream. Made from milk, cream, sugar and eggs, the ice cream contains neither emulsifier nor coloring. The absence of emulsifier makes ice cream melt rather quickly, which is why it has to be refrozen in cups after scooping. As the overrun (air content) is only 20%-30%, the ice cream is very compact. 43 Café has tens of ice cream flavors after several months of experimentation, but not all flavors are available every evening due to limited shelf life. The Homemade Ice Scream can be ordered by the cup or by the tub. In addition, 43 Café also supplies its ice cream to other restaurants such as Kizuna.
Today's flavors are Bailey's Irish Cream, Hazelnut Tea, Horlicks Maple Syrup, Organic Black Sesame, Purple Magic, Rich Chocolate and Coffee. It is recommended to consume the ice cream flavors in this order too. The restaurant suggests that after going through the sequence, it is advisable to redo the sequence with a pinch of salt (literally, no pun intended), then another round with light sprinkles of chili peppers. I believe the gastronomical appeal is similar to what I experienced at Salt & Straw in Portland. However, I feel that the American ice cream has creamier texture.
All in all, 43 Café takes advantage of its chef's sound knowledge on molecular gastronomy to produce a number of delectable fusion dishes. As the cooking techniques differ from mainstream culinary styles, it remains to be seen whether the food here strikes a chord with the general palate. Its Homemade Ice Scream, though likeable without additional qualifiers, should be explored with a pinch of salt (pun intended).
Name: 43 Café
Address: 43, Jalan Sungai Dua, 11700 Gelugor, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 016-430-7009
Business hours: 5:30pm-10:00pm
Website: https://www.facebook.com/43Cafe
Coordinates: 5.35315 N, 100.30391 E
Directions: From the Sungai Dua entrance of USM, turn left and immediately turn right. Turn left immediately and drive along the service road of Jalan Sungai Dua. 43 Café is the last unit of the first row of residential houses. Street parking is available along this service road.

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