After spending two years in Chapel Hill for school, I don’t get back to the Thrill as much as I probably should and miss some classic spots in the area like Jujube. A small Asian fusion eatery, it piqued my curiosity to hear that they were putting up a sister restaurant, Juju on Ninth Street in Durham, deep in Duke territory. But hey, outside of basketball season, Durham is my second home when it comes to eating and dining out so I was glad to check out Juju for an informal dinner. Here’s how it went down…
Located in the Shops at Erwin Mall, Juju strikes a modern and delicious stance. Slick-looking logo, the brick front wraps around the front and side of Juju to a large patio area complete with gas fire pit. Inside we’re greeted by a young hostess and surprise, we’re told that seating is limited on a cold Monday night. Sorta odd because there seemed to be plenty of empty tables but I guess Juju must be popular already. Beautiful bar in the center, Juju is a mixture of modern and elegant Asian decor and details. Rustic and stylish wood chairs, interesting overhead lighting, we grab two seats at a community table and peruse the menu. Thankfully it’s not too long with a selection of small ($6 – $9) and large plates ($9 – $16), with a Peking duck priced at $65. Suggested serving per diner is to go with two or three a person, we order up some chicken-kale crispy dumplings, steamed pork buns, noodles bolognese and short rib for our meal. A small list of beer, wine, sake and dessert completes Juju’s tight menu.
The crowd is pretty young and heavily female, which is sort of typical around Duke University. With the plush and rich decor at Juju I can see the place being great for a date or girls night out. After a short wait, our plates start coming out. First the crisp, chicken-kale dumplings which are perfectly pleated and fried. Quite good even though the stuffing is non-traditional. Next comes the short rib and bolognese. The grilled short rib is thinly cross-sliced and tender, layered with pear, citrus slices and parsley! Yum, probably my favorite dish of the night with a hit of savory, sweet and citrus, nice. The bolognese is a dish I’ve tried before at Jujube but this version is new and improved. Modern take on red-roasted pork, it’s savory and the rice noodles are cooked just right with a touch of firmness, al dente. And finally the pork buns which are tasty but not as good as what you can get at Sono. Plus the buns are sort of falling apart, I’m used to a more artful presentation of this colorful dish.
Service over the course of the evening was professional, team service with a primary order taker. Waters were filled and timing was quite good overall but it’s hard to go wrong with small plates since you just eat as things show up at the table. And while I’m tempted to try the Momofuku crack pie ice cream sandwich, I’m still recovering from the holidays so we pass! But overall I was pretty impressed with Juju, especially since it’s only been open a short while. Prices are a touch high but about right for this level of service and ambiance, I’d expect to drop $25- $35 per person with a drink before tip and tax. And you know what? It’s worth it since I had a good meal and enjoyed everything around it. There is definitely some juju going on in Durham’s newest Asian fusion restaurant, check ’em out when you get the chance!