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Unforgettable Dining Experience at Kiori Japanese Kitchen

MORRIS PLAINS — This month, my ravenous group of foodie friends was in the mood for some Asian cuisine. One place that we have been hearing good things about and that has been on our radar was a small Japanese/Korean neighborhood restaurant on Speedwell Avenue in nearby Morris Plains. Kiori is a standalone building attached to a neighboring restaurant, Delicias Latinas, a cute little Latin American eatery. 

Kiori Japanese Kitchen, promising a fresh approach to Japanese cuisine, opened to local fanfare in October 2022, when it took over the site previously owned by Aji Sushi Japanese Restaurant. Mayor Karr even presented the ownership with a borough “Key to Success” at the ribbon cutting, proudly displayed on the kitchen’s wall.

A Culinary Journey at Kiori Japanese Kitchen Yong Cho, Patrick Minutillo, and Joe Cho

Speedwell Avenue is part of a bustling, vibrant street scene with limited parking, so I was pleased to find that Kiori had a private off-street parking lot in the rear of the restaurant. I arrived before my group, and on entry, I was warmly greeted by a smiling Yong Cho, who not only owns the eatery but manages, at least on this occasion, to amicably greet arriving guests, expediently bus tables, and serve customers.

That’s some front-of-the-house multi-tasking! That caring, personal touch is one of those things that is so cool about small, independently-owned businesses. While Mr. Cho is taking care of front-of-house operations, Joe Cho (best I could determine, Joe is Yong’s cousin) and his assistant are busy in the open-faced, immaculate kitchen, expertly preparing the dishes. As expected, all the dishes are made to order, and all ingredients are fresh and prepared at the restaurant, with regularly scheduled delivery of the fish. I should mention that Kiori is a BYOB establishment, and if you forget, do not worry; there’s a liquor store nearby.

Owner Yong Cho arrived in the U.S. 20 years ago from Korea, and Kiori Japanese Kitchen is his first restaurant. The energetic Mr. Cho comes from a restaurant-oriented family. His mother is a Chef in Japan, and he learned how to cook and prepare traditional Japanese food at an early age. His fairly extensive menu incorporates a wide selection of most traditional Japanese dishes and some modern twists on your classic favorites. Included are Appetizers, Bento Boxes ( traditional Japanese single-portion lunch), Donburi (rice bowl dish consisting of fish, meat, vegs), Japanese Fried Chicken (boneless and wings), Regular and Vegetable rolls, Signature rolls, Special rolls, Sushi & Sashimi combos (as well as A La Carte), Noodle dishes (assorted Ramen dishes), Lunch Combos (available 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), Katsu (fried pork, fish, cheese, or chicken with panko bread crumbs & sauce), soft drinks and dessert.

Japanese Fried Chicken (boneless and wings)

Kiori has about ten tables, including individual and booth seating along the side walls.  There are also several stools along the open-faced sushi kitchen if you prefer. Our group of seven was seated at one of the booths, which proved to be comfortable. Seating is appropriately and thoughtfully spaced, and the small restaurant vibe is cozy, inviting, casual, and relaxing. The minimalistic design elements, sparse decorations, modern, dark-themed interior, and natural wood flooring and tables were simple, aesthetic, and reflective of a traditional Japanese restaurant. Ambient lighting from the exterior windows and dropped globe light fixtures were sufficient to create a suitable and desired mood where one can sit back and enjoy a great meal.

Beef Gyoza (handmade beef dumplings with steamed or deep fry)

As my group finally arrived and were seated, Mr. Cho happily addressed any questions about the menu, and we usually have quite a few.  Friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive, Mr. Cho even helped with our requested recommendations based on all our individual preferences. You felt immediately that this was going to be an enjoyable dining experience.  As usual, we arrived at a selection of shared appetizers. After starting with a satisfying bowl of umami-rich Miso Soup, we opted for a couple of servings each of Fried Chicken Wings (deep fried chicken wings, with soy garlic and spicy sauce), Beef Gyoza (handmade beef dumplings with steamed or deep fry), Takoyaki (crispy octopus dumplings, with bonito flake, mayo, and okonomiyaki sauce), and the Appetizer Sampler (2 pieces each of Shumai, Vegetable Gyoza, Harumaki, and Takoyaki (deep fried only).

Takoyaki (crispy octopus dumplings with bonito flake, mayo, and okonomiyaki sauce),

Japanese cuisine is known for its delicate balance of flavors, fresh ingredients, and meticulous preparation, and this became noticeably more apparent as our meal progressed. Every choice was delicious, and the gorgeous presentation and detail showcased the artistry that Japanese cuisine is noted for. Devoured quickly, there was no debate that everyone thoroughly enjoyed these wonderfully tasteful treats, but now it was time to move on to our entrees.

Kalbi Box (broiled, marinated, bone-in short rib, with house-made kalbi sauce)

I went with the Kiori Special Roll (spicy tuna, eel, cucumber, rolled and layered Kani, mixed lobster salad, crunch, with avocado on top with spicy mayo). The roll was expertly crafted, and you could taste the fresh and high-quality ingredients. It was aesthetically enticing, and it was as delicious as it looked. As vast as the menu was, after much bantering, the rest of the group decided to opt for individual Bento Boxes. They included a Beef Bulgogi Box (marinated sliced rib eye beef, with house-made bulgogi sauce), Kalbi Box (broiled, marinated, bone-in short rib, with house-made kalbi sauce), Spicy Salmon Box (marinated and broiled salmon, with Kaori spicy sauce), and a Shrimp Tempura Box (4 pieces of deep-fried shrimp, house-made panko crumbs, with sauce). All the Bento Box selections came with steamed rice, house salad, Harumaki (Japanese Spring Roll), edamame, and a regular roll or Miso Soup. Sadly, I didn’t get to sample all the dishes personally, but everyone gave their choices a hearty thumbs up by unanimous agreement. Not only did everyone in the group agree that their dishes were delicious and their portion sizes were fulfilling, but they were also impressed with the polite, accommodating, and impeccable service. It was a very leisurely, unrushed meal and a dining adventure that was both delicious and culturally enriching.

Kiori Special Roll (spicy tuna, eel, cucumber, rolled and layered Kani, mixed lobster salad, crunch, with avocado on top with spicy mayo)

The meal ended with complimentary Mochi Ice Cream. Mochi is a confection from pounded sticky rice with an ice cream filling. The frozen dessert comes wrapped in plastic. It is sweet and flavorful and a great palette cleanser after a meal. Before this visit, I was unfamiliar with Mochi despite many visits to Japanese eateries. That introduction itself made this visit a worthwhile experience. Enhancing my knowledge of the vast and diverse cuisines we are fortunate to have here in Morris County is a never-ending goal.

Overall, dining at Kiori Japanese Kitchen was a delightful experience. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for authentic Japanese cuisine. The delicious food, excellent service, reasonable prices, and inviting ambiance made it memorable.

Kiori Japanese Kitchen, 645 Speedwell Avenue, Morris Plains. Phone: (973) 270-0886. kiorikitchen.com; Dine In – Take Out- Delivery; No Reservations – BYOB – Private Parking Lot In Rear; Catering – Party Platters; Hours: Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Closed Sunday.

“ごうちそうさまでした”

 Gouchiisousama deshita

Dining at Kiori Japanese Kitchen was a delightful experience.

Reprinted from Parsippany Focus Magazine – July 2024. Click here to read the magazine.

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Patrick Minutillo
Patrick Minutillo
Patrick Minutillo is a longtime Parsippany resident covering restaurant reviews for Parsippany Focus and Morris Focus. Reviews will also appear in Parsippany Focus Magazine, Tri-Town Focus Magazine as well as Morris Focus Magazine.
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