Once upon a time I did not own a Vietnamese cookbook. Not only did I not own a Vietnamese cookbook, but I didn't even know how Vietnamese food was supposed to taste. So when I first went to V Majestic, a Vietnamese restaurant in Allston, MA, I was absolutely blown away.
The menu was small and most of the 'real' Vietnamese dishes were specials, written out in long hand on the wall. There was not a hint of Vietnamese language anywhere in the restaurant, except in the kitchen. The owners had renamed every dish in english...bun became "glowing tofu" or "glowing chicken" and goi cuon was "summer rolls"...you get the idea. It wasn't so much about authenticity as it was about bringing Vietnamese cuisine to the masses. And when they opened sometime around 1987-88, there really wasn't much else in Boston for anyone to compare it to.
Times changed, of course. More Authentic Vietnamese restaurants opened up, and slowly V Majestic's clientele melted away. Perhaps it was because of the seediness of the restaurant - I remember on one occassion a panhandler practically shaking me down for change before the owner reluctantly chased him out. To get to the bathroom you had to walk through part of the kitchen, lift up a door in the floor, and climb down a ladder. This led to an anteroom of sorts where there was a cot and pictures of one of the owners in his Army uniform - it appeared he fought on the side of the south Vietnamese. And we know how that ended.
In recent years most of the restaurant's customers came to eat cheap "Chinese" food. That had always been a big part of the menu but in the early 90s, when my friends and I counted V as our favorite cheap eats place in Boston, very few people seemed to order it.
Last Saturday night my friend Claudia, who now lives in New York, suggested that we eat at V. As we sat down and started going over the menu, our server, who used to be a young teenager when we started going way back when, told us that this was the last night that V would be open. They had sold the restaurant to a Chinese Bakery, which would be opening up soon. I wasn't surprised (V had long ceased being my favorite Vietnamese in Boston), but a lot of people in the restaurant were devastated. I could hear gasps every time the server told another party, usually longtime customers like us.
Here's our meal from that last night...summer rolls, glowing tofu, caramel squid, chicken soup, and rolling chicken (chicken and onion rolled in rice paper and served with some kind of gummy, savory sauce):
RIP V Majestic. Although you weren't always authentic, you were very tasty.