- Restaurant: Two Penny
- Location: 1213 1 St. SW, Calgary, Alberta
- Website: twopenny.ca
- Price: $7-$36
- Cuisine: Contemporary Asian/Asian-inspired
Atmosphere: Cool, open-concept space with a central bar, plenty of natural light during the day and subdued lighting by night.
- Drinks on offer: Cocktails, nice wine list
- Best bets: Black-mushroom salad, duck and foie potstickers,
mapotofu, pineapple bun cream puff. Vegetarian friendly? Yes.
- Additional info: Also offers weekend brunch. Reservations recommended.
Folks certainly have their opinions on Two Penny. Sure, with its ownership being predominantly white male, we could easily segue into conversations of cultural appropriation. In a time when people are more critically aware of everything around them than ever before, it is hard to not keep this kind of thing in the back of your mind regardless of what elevated ethnic concept you dine at.
With places around Calgary such as Gringo Street, though, I think we can all agree there are much more injudicious things happening in Calgary’s food scene. Does Gringo still garnish that “Peruvian Marching Powder” cocktail with a bag of fake cocaine? I forget.
Then there’s the common complaint about its more traditional Chinese offerings being pricier than what you’ll find in Chinatown. It’s hard to argue with that, I suppose, but I’m not walking into U & Me Restaurant expecting intricate cocktails, a well-curated wine list and an appropriately lit room for my next date.
Inside Two Penny, owner Cody Willis’s venture certainly feels lofty. High ceilings, an ornate entranceway frame, subdued green and pink colour scheme and scalloped tile wrapped around the bar mimicking ancient suits of armour are some of the interior’s elements that join forces in pleasing, Chinese art-deco fashion.
Two Penny has a concise wine list that’s been curated perfectly for the Asian food it offers. A riesling by the glass will get you through plenty of what the kitchen is cooking up here, but if you’re in more of a cocktail mood, the drink to have is the gin sour, spun creatively with the additions of a touch of burnt soy sauce, ginger and a garnish of spindly chili threads.
From day to night and even brunch on weekends, chef Scott Beaton’s menu is lengthy and interesting. Plenty of tasty and well-executed dishes such as the mapo tofu, soft chunks of tofu in fermented bean, chili and ground pork sauce, or the wood-ear mushroom salad – especially fresh with hints of fresh mint, shaved peppers, bean sprouts and crispy specks of fried garlic – are available both day and night. But the big guns only come out at night.
The fusion found in the duck and foie gras potstickers are cause for celebration in and of themselves. Handmade dumpling wrappers are filled with ground duck and foie before being steamed and plated alongside a small bowl of plum and black-vinegar gastrique, which tasted like plum sauce on steroids, but calmed down nicely when paired with the savouriness of the now-melted foie intertwined with the duck inside the soft potsticker wrapper.
Things take a turn for the mediocre when the chef ventures into Western-Chinese territory, though, and most notably in the fried-chicken fried rice. With dry chunks of chicken, and tasting fairly bland in general aside from small chunks of locally made Chinese sausage, it feels like the dish is only on the menu to appease a person with restrictive taste buds.
The egg rolls are also bemusing, being filled with braised wagyu beef filling – not the most practical use of this type of beef – and served with crisp lettuce leaves, cilantro and cucumbers.
An unexpected star of our dinner at Two Penny was the cream puff. This gigantic pastry, scored similarly to the famous Hong Kong-style baked good, arrived piped full of crème fraîche and ginger whipped cream sitting next to a scoop of pistachio ice cream, rich caramelized pineapple and crunchy bits of candied ginger toffee.