MaiYaj Asian Bistro in Montague takes diners on a culinary journey
A New York chef who worked in high-end restaurants and appeared on a Food Network show found culinary bliss with his girlfriend in the small town of Montague in Siskiyou County.
With a smooth opening just over a month ago, word has spread over the cuisine of MaiYaj Asian Bistro, which is located in the former Dutchman Restaurant at 155 S. 11th St., in Montague.
Owners Pom Amaritnant and MaiYaj Vang said they were busy welcoming hungry and curious diners, some of whom have already become loyal customers.
“It has been amazing to see people already coming back and bringing friends or family to try our food,” Amaritnant said.
MaiYaj Asian Bistro serves authentic Southeast Asian comfort food. The restaurant specializes in Hmong, Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines.
“It’s the food we love to eat,” Vang said. “We want people to come and feel at home.”
Amaritnant named the restaurant after Vang because it is “a love letter” to her. She is his inspiration, he says.
MaiYaj Asian Bistro will have a grand opening on November 18, with food samples offered at 10 a.m.
The restaurant will expand its services to five days a week instead of four days. It will increase to six days a week in the spring or summer. After that, if the restaurant’s popularity continues to grow, the couple said they could go seven days a week.
Treat customers like loved ones
When Amaritnant started cooking professionally, a mentor told him that it doesn’t matter if you are the best or an average cook. For them, as long as you cook thinking that each dish could be proudly served to your family and friends, it will be as good as any.
He took the advice to heart.
“Cooking is my passion that I want to share,” said Amaritnant. “We cook for each guest as if they were our family and friends.”
Vang works in front of the house as a waiter and hostess, and Amaritant cooks in the back.
“It’s been awesome,” Vang said. “We work well together.”
Amaritnant and Vang want to have a place that reflects the food they experienced growing up and which he discovered as a chef.
A goal for Vang and Amaritnant is to bring Hmong food into the mainstream of Asian cuisine, educate others about Hmong and other Asian cultures, and form bonds and friendships.
Amaritnant was born in Thailand and moved to Queens, New York at the age of 8.
Vang came from a Hmong family and was born and raised in Wisconsin. The couple met in New York City, where she worked in the healthcare industry,
“Discover these cultures through food”
To test out what their customers like, the couple rotate the menu items. Once they determine which dishes are the most popular, they will create a permanent menu with weekly specials.
While Amaritnant has added dishes that are familiar to most diners, such as Pad Thai, he has been more adventurous. A few weeks ago he put chicken feet on the menu as a dish of the week and got good results. People, in general, were ready to try it.
Below are some of the dishes they served, with descriptions provided by MaiYaj Asian Bistro.
- Hmong style ncej puab qaib kib (fried quarter leg of chicken): A common street food, it is lightly seasoned, hot-fried to give it that crunch while keeping the meat moist and tender. It is usually served with sticky rice, fresh vegetables, chili sauce, and cold soup.
- Green papaya salad, Tam maak hoong (Lao) or Som tum (Thai): This salad is made with grated green papaya, carrots, tomatoes, long green beans, peanuts (optional) and mixed with garlic, chili, lime, tamarind, fish sauce fermented, crab paste and shrimp paste. A vegan version is also available.
- Braised sweet pork, Pig Palo (Thai) or Nqaij Qab Zib (Hmong): Most often, you will find this dish at large family gatherings. It is cooked in large pots and is normally made to be shared and given to family and friends.
- Marinated Breast Breast, Nur Yang Nam Jim (Thai) or Nqaij Nyuj Ci (Hmong): The brisket is juicy and full of flavor and served with sticky rice, fresh vegetables, grilled peppers and a tangy lime sauce.
Vang said they wanted to produce authentic traditional dishes that you would find served at home.
“We want to serve dishes that we love and that mean a lot to us and that have a story and a story behind them,” she said. “We want people to experience these cultures through food.”
For example, Vang said, Hmong families use vegetables grown in their gardens and usually make cold vegetable soup to accompany a meal.
“It’s so delicious and refreshing,” she said. They offer this type of soup with some Hmong dishes.
Who is Pom Amaritnant?
Amaritnant has been cooking professionally for over 16 years. He started working in Thai restaurants as a busboy and waiter in his neighborhood in Queens at the age of 16.
After graduating from high school, he went to college to study computer engineering. The lure of being in the kitchen was too strong, and he left after a semester and started cooking full time at age 19. He cooked at Jaiya, one of the first Thai restaurants in New York City when it opened in 1978.
He also worked at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center and Madame Vo, a Vietnamese restaurant in New York’s East Village.
Amaritnant was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2016 and made an appearance as a nominee on the Food Network show, “Beat Bobby Flay”. The episode was called “A View From the Top” and premiered on March 15, 2020.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the restaurant he worked in temporarily closed and he lost his job. He said it was a difficult time for him.
“Something was always missing,” Amaritnant said of his restaurant work as a chef and cook. “It wasn’t my home.”
A new path after COVID-19
In 2019, he and Vang started a company called Saucey Boy LLC, which still operates in New York City. He sells different Asian sauces to stores and restaurants. During the pandemic, he focused on Saucey Boy and cooking for Vang at home.
It was around this time that he decided to open his own restaurant focusing on the food that most reminded him of his home.
Last December, Vang, joined by her parents, and Amaritnant visited her relatives in Montague. They liked the scenery and the slower pace of life. By the summer, the couple and their parents moved to the Montague area to open their restaurant.
Amaritanant loves being her own boss and working with Vang. Although the hours are long, it is nothing compared to what he experienced as a chef in the big city. He remembered times when he walked in at 6 a.m. and didn’t finish until late at night.
From the big city to the countryside Siskiyou
Amaritnant and Vang decided to switch from the bright lights of the Big Apple to the rural rhythm of Siskiyou County.
He talked about having more space to live. Instead of being in a small apartment, he now lives in a house with a large garden that overlooks the hills and mountains.
Both said the locals were kind and welcoming to them.
“We love the small town vibe here,” Vang said. “It’s very different from New York City. It’s wonderful getting to know so many people in the community.”
This week the bistro will be open for take out only as the building is undergoing renovations.
It is open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, the restaurant can be reached at 530-459-9003.
Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News / Mount Shasta Herald / USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at [email protected] Support local journalism by subscribing today.