Jamie Knott, one of the top chefs in the state, already runs four critically acclaimed and popular restaurants here (Madame and Cellar 335 in Jersey City, the Saddle River Inn, and the Saddle River Cafe). But Knott has always loved Asian food and its flavors and wanted to try his hand at something new.
The result is Kinjo, Knott’s first Japanese restaurant, which opened in November. Located in downtown Newark, it’s become a hot spot for hip foodies in the city and nearby—and has landed on New Jersey Monthly’s Best New Restaurants list.
With a relaxed aesthetic (clean lines, cherry-blossom wallpaper, and Japanese anime and soap operas playing discreetly on TVs), Kinjo is a treat for the senses. But the food is the real reason to come here.
Knott, 43, who grew up in Nutley and went back to live there with his wife and three kids (“Nutley forever and ever,” he says), wanted to open a restaurant where people could come to share small plates, relax with a cocktail, and listen to music when the DJ sets up on the weekends.
Like Knott, who is friendly and down to earth, the service is gracious, and the vibe is laid-back and unassuming. There’s no attitude here.
Why Asian food this time? “The flavors are bold, flavorful and exciting. It looks great and it tastes great,” he says.
He discovered the restaurant’s executive chef, 26-year-old Bill Sanders, who grew up in Montclair, when Sanders was cooking at 7 Doors Down Ramen Co. in Bloomfield.
Knott had dinner there with friends one night and had a conversation with Sanders. “I said, ‘Are you ready for the next step?’ And he’s like, ‘What exactly is the next step?’ And I said, ‘Listen, I’m ready to change your life. I want to make you a chef. I think you have a serious talent.’” Knott is good at mentoring and guiding young, talented chefs, and the chemistry between the two men works.
“He has a great attitude, and I just let him have fun. I remember my first chef job and writing the menu and those feelings that came along with it,” says Knott. “I’m proud of him. He’s a really humble and grateful young man. He just gets it, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
159 Washington Street, Newark, 973-944-2828