Monday, May 9, 2016

Jujube

I had some pretty incredible meals during my 4 years in Chapel Hill. While not 5-star dining, Elmo's and Med Deli will always be favorites, but I've definitely found a new one to add to that list. Jujube opened in 2005, during my first year on the Hill, but it wasn't until 11 years later that I had the good fortune of dining there. It's modern Asian fusion. It's inventive and whimsical. It's outstanding.

The side patio is covered, making it a fabulous option for dining al fresco. Service is prompt and professional, and I was particularly impressed with how well they took care of our party of 11. The cocktail list is extensive - I wanted to sample every single one - but I chose the Xi, a Snow Maiden sake base with St. Germaine, Cucumber and Thai Basil. It was too easy to sip.

You'd be wise to order all of the small plates - dumplings included. Both the BBQ Pork Belly steamed dumplings and the Pork and Shrimp fried variety are impossible to stop with just one. Both have a wonderful exterior as well as a flavorful meat filling, not to mention the umami-forward soy sauce that comes alongside. The star small plate, however, is the Crispy Beef Short Rib and Goat Cheese Wontons. Rich, unctuous meat filling is surrounded by a perfectly crisp wonton, and topped with smooth goat cheese. This is a bite of heaven.
Short Rib and Goat Cheese Wonton - you may not be the prettiest but you are the tastiest.
Duck Breast, Confit Taro Tots, Heavenly Salad
If you wanted to load up on small plates and cocktails, you would be fine. However, the entrees are delicious and so well-executed that you need to save some room. The skin on the Roasted Duck Breast is just slightly crispy, with a hint of orange flavor. It's cooked perfectly. Duck Confit Taro Tots are what sold me on ordering this dish, but the surprise star was the Beet-Kale-Mushroom-Chinese Bacon salad. This is quite possibly the best salad I've ever had. Each ingredient had a purpose for being on the plate and the dish came together beautifully.

Branzino!

I'm a huge Pad Thai fan, so I was excited to try Jujube's rendition. Shrimp, Bean Sprouts, Egg, Scallions, Peanuts - all the usual suspects are here, but the notable amount of fish sauce is what stood out. I was about to dive in for more rice noodles when I spotted a beautiful whole Branzino on the plate next to me. I've never had a whole fish like this before, and I don't know that I'll find one better. The crispy skin, white meat and spicy black bean sauce is spectacular. I even dove in for a fish eye - a first for me! (Side note - I didn't dive in for the other one.) Branzino is a frequent special at Jujube, so if you're lucky enough to be there when it's offered, do yourself a favor and order it.

Whatever you do, it's imperative that you get dessert. Everything sounds fabulous, but the Brown Butter Pot de Creme may alter you. The rich custard is just sweet enough, but the dollop of tangy sour cream and liberal amount of beautiful black lava salt flaked across the top balance the flavors perfectly. You will be scraping the dish for every last bite. It's seriously to die for. I'll never question the use of sour cream in lieu of whipped cream as a topping again. This is one of the best restaurant desserts I've ever had.

My palate and stomach couldn't have been happier after my meal at Jujube. Chapel Hill is filled to the brim with yummy spots, but I can't recommend this restaurant enough. I now have another excuse to visit the most glorious place on Earth.

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