Asian fusion tapas- that’s how Juju, a popular new restaurant on Durham’s 9th street, describes their food. In other words, expect to eat small plates of amazing Asian classics with a twist. This menu is curated by the insanely creative and clever executive chef, Aaron Zarczynski.
When you first walk into the restaurant, you’re instantly transported into a relaxed environment with spaced out seating, dim lighting, and a gorgeous bar in the middle. Off to the side are doors leading out to the patio that has an abundance of seating and a lounge area around a fire pit where you can sit with your drinks while waiting for the rest of your party.
My husband and I decided to start off our date night here on the patio. The weather was perfect and despite being on a busy corner, it felt private and relaxed. The waiter was incredibly nice and charismatic, full of knowledge about the menu. We ordered and our drinks came. I had the Virgin Love Child, a pomegranate, ginger, and lime cocktail that was perfect for this pregnant girl. My husband tried the Gin Couchee, a signature Juju drink that combines orange-lemon egg white foam with varying spices, and local Conniption Gin straight out of Durham Distillery. The drinks looked and tasted amazing. I felt like I was getting a treat with my drink and it made me feel like I was still getting my full date experience sans alcohol. My husband was pleasantly surprised with his drink. Reading the description, it didn’t sound like something he would be initially drawn to, but he was so pleased with the flavor he said he would come back just for that.
On to the food. At first glance, you might be wondering how much to order. How small are the small plates? How much are you getting for the price (averaging between $7-$20)? We’ve been here a couple of times and have found we get nice and full when we share three plates-usually an appetizer or two and a main dish. The plates come out quickly and they are set up in a way that is meant for sharing, which we love. If we still have room, we top it off with a dessert. On this night, we ordered three dishes and dessert: Braised beef short rib wontons (appetizer), ahi poke (seafood entrée), pear marinated grilled short rib (meat entrée), and bruleed yuzu lemon curd (dessert).
The short rib wontons were savory with a hint of sweetness. You get this immediate crunch when biting into the wonton that is just spectacular. But just after, you notice the braised beef, which is complemented perfectly by the pepper-basil jam. The cilantro gives it wonderful dimension and the creamed chevre (cheese) on top works so well with it. It’s safe to say I could eat myself into a coma with these things.
Next was the pear marinated grilled short rib. There was a surprising tangy quality to the dish thanks to the orange. The short rib was loaded with a pear, carrot, and bean sprout topping that gave the dish texture. I loved it.
The ahi poke was the seafood entrée we tried next. It’s raw tuna on top of a bed of rice and covered with macadamia-soy jus, avocado, nori, and sweet onion. There were three giant wontons on the side as well. I hope this isn’t blasphemous to say, but when I was describing eating this dish to my mom, it made sense to her to say it was like an Asian chips and guacamole. The texture of the tuna and the rice with avocado was soft, but that crunch from the wonton balanced it out exceptionally. The pairing was made for each other.
Lastly, the bruleed yuzu lemon curd. I have to be 100% honest and say that it is something I would never order for myself at first. I mean, I’m usually a chocolate and/or nut (pecan pie or nut brownies anyone?) kind of girl when it comes to dessert. But as I have been baking a lot of new things lately, I agreed with my husband to step out of the box and try something totally different. This yuzu curd had a graham cracker crust, hints of blackberry, and strawberry yogurt on the side. I hope these pictures are getting across how delicious this is. We are more than a little obsessed with this dessert. It is so good. It’s bright. The crust was perfection. It’s beautiful. I want another right now.
Overall, Juju is one of my favorite places to eat in The Triangle for sure. I like how there are a variety of vegetarian and gluten free options, which means I can take my allergy-riddled family members here and find something for everyone. I also learned that there are plans to introduce new sauce options to make even more of the dishes gluten-free. Another fun fact is that they get a lot of their food locally, which is proudly displayed on the menu. Certain items, which are not obtained locally (such as the snapper) are found from the most sustainable sources possible, another point that I like. But in the end, the food is consistently delicious, the staff cheerful, and the environment relaxed. So that’s what I’ll keep going back for. Do you have a favorite Juju dish? Let us know what to try next time in the comments!