Kiraku means joy and happiness, and no doubt those are the feelings that come from stepping into this new Japanese Restaurant and Asian Grill in the former Al's Place, at 1795 Post Road, across from Mill Plain Road.

It takes a few moments to absorb the transformation from the neighborhood bar that had long been a mainstay in town, to this inviting and well-appointed restaurant, reflecting the thought and care that has been given to every detail, from the beautiful interior to the exquisite presentation and quality of food.

Kudos belong to Jimmy Pan and his co-owner and executive chef, Kevin Pan (no relation), whose attention to detail is evident. They wanted to present a restaurant to the community that reflects the small town flavor of Fairfield, blended with its cosmopolitan sensibility. The owners do not disappoint.

From the moment patrons step through the doorway and enter beneath a decorative, colorful lighting fixture consisting of rows of red, orange and green, miniature shades depicting the shapes of fruit, diners become immersed in the Asian environment that only heightens with the vast menu selections and taste and texture of each menu choice.

"I wanted to have my own stage," said Jimmy Pan in chronicling how he rose in the restaurant industry from busboy, waiter and manager and, finally, to co-owner of his own restaurant, first with Kiraku in Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., which he opened two years ago, and now with Kiraku in Fairfield. The owners' success with their restaurant in Glen Cove spurred an interest in opening a second restaurant in Connecticut.

Pan scouted locations, checked out the competition and while driving by the former Al's Place, he noticed a "For Lease" sign. This led to a new venture for the Chinese native and a new adventure for local patrons well familiar with good taste, both in décor and quality food. With the popularity of Asian travel today, Jimmy Pan is confident that Fairfield County dining patrons will recognize and appreciate the quality of food and good service that Kiraku offers.

Kevin Pan's artistry is evident in every dish, especially the sushi dragon roll of avocado and cucumber. His talent as a chef is also evident in his special combination of ingredients, particularly his sauces, which heighten the taste of several dishes. For example, the Tuna Tataki dish offers a surprising taste in which a grapefruit-based sauce with caviar complements the soft textured tuna slices.

"He's very, very creative," said Jimmy Pan of his co-owner chef who mastered the culinary arts by studying and working in restaurants in Japan. The co-owners met while growing up in China.

The Kiraku menu offers a variety of soups, salads, cold and hot appetizers, sushi bar entrees, roll, hand roll and special roll selections; sushi and sashimi a la carte, tempura, entrees, special dish selections, a bento special, noodles and rice and dessert.

Here's a sampling of Kiraki menu offerings: mango shrimp served with snow peas; shrimp, vegetable, chicken or lobster tempura; pai thai, which is a rice noodle and served with chicken, veggies or shrimp and drizzled with lime juice; Chilean sea bass with steamed mixed greens; shrimp, chicken, scallop or filet mignon seasoned with fresh basil, red and green peppers, and onion; wasabi tuna wrapped around greens, ginger and wasabi with onion sauce; yellowtail jalapeno roll; and Kiraku's special roll, which offers mango and pineapple rolled with rice and seaweed and topped with spicy tuna and caviar; plus fried calamari.

The menu offers five soups including the tom yum seafood soup, which is a spicy soup with shrimp, scallop, fish cake, lemongrass, veggies and lemon juice.

The bento specials menu offer five choices each served with shumai, shrimp tempura, a California roll, rice and choice of soup or salad. The dessert menu offers the traditional fried ice cream, fried banana with ice cream, mochi ice cream, which is a Japanese ice cream pastry and fresh fruits. The menu also offers lunch specials, served Monday to Saturday until 3 p.m., except holidays.

Jimmy Pan said since the restaurant's opening a month ago, the response has exceeded expectations.

"The food speaks for itself," said Jimmy Pan, noting that in the brief time the restaurant has been opened he has noticed repeat customers.

The two dining rooms offer a variety of seating for family and friends' gatherings, or business lunches - the latter of which is ideal as Kiraku offers free WiFi.

In addition to the variety of the menu and the quality of the food, the spacious interior contributes to the ambiance. The restaurant's focal point is the beautifully appointed sushi bar, which offers seating for 24 patrons. The dramatic lighting adds to the setting and provides a spotlight on the masterful culinary skills of Kevin Pan as he prepares the dishes.

In addition to its extensive dining-in menu, Kiraku also offers take-out and catering services. Also, the restaurant's two separate rooms, provide opportunity to arrange private parties in the restaurant..

Jimmy Pan, who looks' younger than his 35 years, enjoys greeting patrons and making sure they are given "the best service."

Reflecting upon his success to date in this country, that has been his home the past 18 years, Pan said, "It's all about the American dream."

Kiraku is open Monday through Thursday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; for dinner, 4:30 to 10 p.; Friday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; for dinner from 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 12:30 to 10 p.m., with service throughout the day.

For more information, call 203-255-6888.