Zymology 21 is the newest concept by the owners of Cafe 21 which opened late last year, serving fun cocktails in a laboratory-themed setting and an innovative food menu offering boards, appetizers and open-faced sandwiches.
Located in the Gaslamp, it occupies the former location of Cafe 21 before they took over the Croce’s space. The interior has been completely transformed to fit the science laboratory theme. I especially loved the use of hexagon shapes (skeletal formula) throughout, from the walls, to the tables, to the plates.
At first glance, the menu was almost overwhelming. Luckily, our server soon grabbed a chair and easily explained everything to us and answered any remaining questions. Zymology is the study of fermentation, so it was only fitting that we tried one of their shrub specialties.
We decided to start with a flight of their shrub drinks, which are served in test tubes. You choose your alcohol of choice and it’s mixed with the different shrub flavors. The house-made shrubs are fruits mixed with vinegar and sugar and left to ferment.
The drinks arrived over dry ice. To make it even more fun, the server lit some alcohol on fire and poured it over the test tubes. I wasn’t quite prepared with my camera for this to happen, but luckily Mr. K captured most of it with his phone.
We’ve always enjoyed the cocktails at Cafe 21 and we equally enjoyed the Shrub flight here. The drinks at Cafe 21 have always been quite strong and the same goes for the drinks at Zymology 21.
Waters are served in beakers.
Here are our individual plates
Beef & Salmon & Pickle Board
When we arrived, it was still early enough to order from the happy hour menu, so we decided to take advantage and order a combination of their beef & salmon board plus their pickle board.
The little bites were fun to try, my favorite was the pâté in the center. It made me quite interested in the open-faced sandwiches, but unfortunately we ran out of room to try them.
Chicken and Waffles
One of the main reasons I wanted to come here was to try their Chicken and Waffles, after seeing a photo they posted on their Facebook page. I was so excited to see that they were using a Hong Kong-style egg waffle iron to make the waffle. (More about Hong Kong Egg Waffles here.) I knew the batter was not going to taste like the Hong Kong one and that they were just using the iron to continue the theme, since a full waffle has a hexagon shape and the individual puffs are pretty wacky and cool to look at too. But I still wanted to try it out.
The chicken and waffles did not disappoint. Up until now, I’ve actually never been much of a fan of the combination of chicken and waffles. I like fried chicken and I like waffles, but I never thought that the two foods went particularly well together and I hated pouring syrup over my chicken. However, Zymology 21’s version really brought the the dish together for me.
I was initially worried when I saw that the fried chicken was a piece of chicken breast meat, as that part of the chicken can easily overcook and turn out too dry. However, the chicken breast is brined for 48 hours in buttermilk, herbs, garlic ad ginger, and as a result, it was extremely flavorful and juicy. The breading also had a good crunch to it. This then ties into the waffle which is flavored with cheddar and herbs. Finally, a connection between the chicken and waffle.
With two quite savory elements, I suddenly found myself wanting to reach for some syrup to balance it out. The syrup here is not just regular syrup. Served in tiny test tubes, it’s a habanero agave nectar that isn’t overly sweet, with hints of citrus mixed in. It struck just the right balance of sweetness to counteract the savory elements of the chicken and waffles.
Overall, we had a really fun time here and want to return again soon. I definitely want to make sure I save room for the open-faced sandwiches next time as well.
750 5th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101