Le Kiosque (260 Valley Street, South Orange, 973-763-0300), which opened last week, is a welcoming, family-owned restaurant serving Haitian Creole cuisine.
According to Claudia Cesar, half of the husband and wife team behind Le Kiosque, all of the recipes are authentically Haitian. No Americanized translations of Haitian dishes - and that's fine with me.
For appetizers, try the grilled conch - chewy sea snail morsels served on skewers with a spicy pepper sauce, alongside a small bowl of a really spicy Haitian onion-pepper relish called Pikliz (I saved this bowl of fire to add to my entree); or the very tasty Kibby - croquettes of ground meat with spices wrapped in cous-cous and deep fried, the Haitian version of Middle Eastern kibbe. Entrees include Creole Shrimp, whole Red Snapper, and fried beef, pork and goat. My dried and fried beef cube dish reminded me of a chunky version of Cuban vaca frita. Each entree comes with a choice of white rice, "black rice" (colored by black mushrooms), or rice and red beans; and sweet or green plantains (smashed and fried up like Dominican tostones). The dishes are all flavorful and slightly, but not overpoweringly spicy, unless you add that Pikliz. Even the mac and cheese off the children's menu is Haitian style - a baked rectangular version that was a big hit with our family's two mac and cheese experts.
Claudia and her husband Jean Guetty have turned the building that used to house a Pizza Hut on Valley Street (at the corner of Massel Terrace between 5th and 4th Streets) into a smooth and upscale space with about a dozen tables, a homemade wooden bar at the entrance (but the restaurant is BYO only), and distinctive Haitian paintings on the walls.
Since Le Kiosque had only just opened, we were the only occupied table on a Thursday evening around 7 pm. A few customers stopped in to pick up take out orders. Service could not have been friendlier. Menu prices are moderate, about $30 per person for an appetizer and entree - Le Kiosque is not a cheap "hole-in-the-wall". Portions are large and the food, service and setting make the restaurant an excellent addition to the local dining scene.
I can't imagine a better spot to try Haitian food for the first time. Once the word gets out, I am sure Le Kiosque's dining room will not be empty for long.
For more information on this restaurant, visit EthnicNJ.com.