Fire Burns and Cauldron Bubbles at Downtown’s Zymology 21
Math, science, and my brain don’t mix. But let’s clarify real quick: Applied Chemistry-Cocktails, is a class you can throw on the schedule first period, 7:30 am and I’ll be there front and center. Gettin’ As. New to downtown’s cool club, Zymology 21 gives everyone a reason to love (lahhh laahh lahv) reaction sequences. Part of the C21 Restaurant Group that’s proven its might with beloved Café 21 (hit up locations in the Gaslamp or University Heights), Zymology keeps it consistent with the fresh, farm-to-table standard loyal diners expect from Chef Leyla Javadov.
On a Wednesday night, GM Jason Ernst greets my arrival with a flight of shrubs (more on that later) and a personal rendition of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (nailed it!). Inside, Zymology’s hexagon motif- a nod to the skeletal formula- dominates the décor. Science heavyweights line the walls like former university presidents in a dimly lit reading room. Under the watchful eye of one Luis Pasteur, I sip rum from a test tube. He approves.
Zymology takes its name from the science of fermentation applied to brining, braising, brewing, distilling, curing, or aging. With cocktail offerings trending toward novel, its contemporary laboratory concept is the perfect space for what is actually a colonial-era revival; shrubs were long the mixer of choice before Red Bull hit the ticket. I get the low down on shrubs from Louis Chavez, a Cafe 21 graduate who was brought on board at Zymology to curate their cocktail menu. “Fresh fruits are cut incredibly thin to release their flavor. The thinner the fruit, the faster their essence infuses. It’s a process we don’t rush. We even break open each blueberry by hand, ” says Chavez. After that, it’s a matter of fermenting the fruit in balsamic, red wine, or champagne vinegar and allowing the mixture to infuse over time. The fruit is strained and sugar added to produce a sweet syrup, the shrub. There are margarita shrub pairings, for example, but Chavez suggests choosing a single liquor to highlight the flavor of the shrub without competing additives like agave nectar and triple sec.
A 20- draft beer list featuring brewery favorites Mother Earth, St. Archer, Greenflash, and Lost Abbey, keeps things familiar while their premium cocktails up the ante on tried and true. Their Bloody Mary is served nearly deconstructed, its accompaniments arranged on a tray, the drink in a beaker alongside a test tube of house-fermented (duh!) beet shrub. Add a splash of Beat It Up sauce and a spoonful of Ballast Point’s Sour Wench and you haven’t had a Bloody like this before. From their premium cocktail list, the Equinox Fizz is a testament to the power of egg whites and alcohol. It’s gin, apple/ blueberry shrub, lemon, and bitters capped off with an egg white honey citrus foam and essentially My-New-Favorite-Drink. On the side of whimsy, their apple blueberry popsicle in hard apple cider is an experiment gone so right. If you’ll all kindly follow me to the back of the menu under the section titled Popsiclez, we can just take care of this right here, right now.
The fare at Zymo is more than a match for its array of beverage options. I get a little Seven Deadly Sins while ordering and (judge me) my hands are never not transporting food to mouth. Taro chips and garlic aioli raise the bar on chips’n’dip, and the lamb lollipops make the case that I do, like, love lamb. Their lobster corndogs impress with a rarely seen meat to breading ratio of 2:1, but the plate that gets my standing ovation is the chicken and waffles. Brined and marinated in ginger, buttermilk, garlic and basil for two days, the tender chicken (breast or leg, your choice) retains all of its moisture under a crispy fried shell that crunches just so. Its waffle plate-mate is savory over sweet (think house-smoked Gouda and herbs), and a side of honey-chipotle glaze has this baby changing the way I feel about breakfast for dinner. Tip of the hat, Zymology.
Let’s recap: glasses are out, beakers are in. Conventional: out, experimental: in. Serve a tray of test- tubed vodka (sangria, champagne, beer, whatever) over dry ice in a lab and Halloween Happy Hour is a given here. Bring your friends, bring your sig. o, come with co-workers, Zymology 21’s a good time. It’s science.
Zymology 21 is located at 750 5th Avenue between streets G and F in the Gaslamp Quarter.