The V Majestic, (formerly) of Brighton, MA. vs. Vietnam 2000, Albuquerque NM

By Roger Boulay

Comparing these two restaurants is an impossible task, not only because the V-Majestic is now defunct and I haven’t eaten there since 2006, but also because I am surely a novice as far as Vietnamese cuisine is concerned, if not culinary judgements as a whole. Such absurdity makes a comparison all the more alluring.
An epic cross-country comparison of a minor Asian cuisine by a white boy from a Massachusetts suburb demands some explanation: I like Carlo and Liz’s blog. As a starving art student in New Mexico existing on sopapillas and burritos, I get to experience a bit of the posh Beacon Hill lifestyle vicariously through Carlo and Liz. So by writing this, I’m trying to express a little bit of gratefulness to my friends. Thank you, Carlo and Liz. Furthermore, some of my best memories from my early twenties occurred at the V-majestic in Brighton with Carlo and Liz, among others. So this is not only a culinary comparison, but a shameless exercise in nostalgia.
The V-Majestic was located on Brighton Ave, right in the heart (or armpit, rather) of Brighton. Vietnam 2000 is on the outskirts of Albuquerque’s scruffy, alternative Knob Hill neighborhood. All of Albuquerque is an armpit. So both these restaurants provide safe havens in otherwise desolate urban landscapes. To further illustrate this fact, Vietnam 2000 shares a building with an emissions testing shop owned by the same folks who run the restaurant. I have some friends who refuse to eat here solely for this reason. Snobs, all of them. By contrast, the V-Majestic was two blocks from a liquor store we frequented on the way. Positioning your restaurant down the street from a liquor store when your place is BYOB is a smart move. In our case, this often resulted in massive tips which would have been smaller had we not brought a bottle of wine per person along for the dining experience.
I love the decor of both restaurants. The V-Majestic staff tilted their art at a 45% angle off of the wall with some elaborate hanging system. This ensured you would see a depiction of the gorgeous Vietnamese landscape as you ate, if not feel as if a picture might come crashing down on you and your chicken curry at any moment. Who doesn’t love a little danger with chicken curry? However, Vietnam 2000 contains a masterpiece of kitsch. The back wall of the place is dominated by a 5×7 foot framed poster of what appears to be vampire horses galloping through water. Yes, some have fangs and none of the horses have irises, their eyes consisting only of big black pupils, fully dilated. If I am concerned about actually listening to what the people I am dining with at Vietnam 2000 are saying, I have to sit with my back to this oeuvre or risk having it dominate my concentration for the entirety of the meal.
One aspect of the V-Maj that Vietnam 2000 can never live up to is its restroom. In order to freshen up at this establishment, you had to walk through the kitchen and locate a trap door in the floor of their back room. Once you found this, a set of stairs descended into a cellar. With your head scraping the ceiling, you made your way through boxes of supplies to the back of the cellar and climbed into a white, plastic tank with a toilet at one end, as if they installed a port-o-potty in the basement of the restaurant. I usually tried to hold it long enough to turn this into a video game and see if I could navigate my way through this obstacle course and make it without peeing my pants. By the time I finally got to the white contraption I always had to urinate so badly that I forgot that Scott or Brian had followed me down to jump out from behind some boxes and scare me silly. It worked every time.

We often fell into a comfortable rhythm at the V-Majestic. Someone inevitably got chicken wings and somebody else got the fresh Vietnamese spring rolls as appetizers. The spring rolls at the V-Maj had a wonderful balance of mint and vermicelli delicately wrapped and accompanied by peanut sauce. Vietnam 2000 has similar spring rolls, but adds in little shrimps. I’m all for this addition.

Entrée choice often varied at the V-majestic the first few years we went there. People experimented with various beef, chicken and pork dishes. Eventually, led by Carlo and Liz, we came to a consensus that the chicken curry was their best dish. A big bowl of curry containing hunks of fresh chicken mixed with vegetables made any visit to the V-Majestic a success. I have yet to find any equivalent dish at Vietnam 2000. Their chicken curry consists of slices of chicken fried with onions and a curry sauce atop a bowl of vermicelli and fresh vegetables. It has no broth and the quality of the chicken is nowhere near what the V-majestic used. My girlfriend has found her favorite dish at Vietnam 2000, vermicelli with pork and fried tofu. The tofu is crispy and full of flavor, but there is no sauce, broth or additional flavor to tie the vermicelli, pork and tofu together like the V-Maj’s chicken curry.
Finally, the V-Majestic’s fried bananas were the perfect finale if you could wait long enough to eat one and avoid burning off the entire roof of your mouth. Dodging this pitfall, their fried bananas had a sugary crispy exterior coupled with a sweet, melting texture inside. It was not only delicious, but also a social dessert. One order was enough to share between several people, and thus a great way to wrap up the meal. Vietnam 2000 has no equivalent dessert, offering only western-style ice cream and fortune cookies. The V-Majestic definitely had better food. That said, Vietnam 2000 is a very good deal. I can eat a perfectly good meal with an appetizer and entrée there for under 10 bucks, a significant caveat for a graduate student with a part-time job. The ridiculously low bill quickly reminds me of the V-Majestic and the many great nights I spent there with good company. I’m happy to have found a restaurant that, while ultimately inferior, brings back such good memories.

How nights at the V Majestic started:

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How nights after the V Majestic ended:

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The V. R.I.P.