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January 17

Oanh Ly from Marina del Rey is heading for Paris with her boyfriend and parents. She wants to know where her dad can get good Vietnamese pho noodles.

I have two favorite Vietnamese places, both on the Left Bank. One is Le Lotus Blanc, 44 Rue de Bourgogne, 011-33-1-45-55-18-89, near Les Invalides and the Rodin Museum. The menu is a French and Vietnamese mix, so the pho is probably tarted up somewhat, but the prices aren't too high and everything goes well with an inexpensive rosé. The other is a fancy, expensive place near the Seine, Tan Dinh, 60 Rue de Verneuil, 011-33-1-45-44-04-84, which has a small but gorgeous dining room with red-trimmed woodwork and mirrors. I went there the other night with a friend and started with a delicately spiced bok choy and chicken salad and shrimp ravioli that had come right out of the fryer; the main course was lamb with vegetables. We didn't have dessert, just a half-bottle of white wine, produced by the owner's son. A very agreeable culinary experience for about $100.

I suspect these two places won't be authentic enough. So I checked out Choisy in the 13th arrondissement, one of Paris's ethnic Asian neighborhoods. I took the Métro to Place d'Italie, then walked south on Avenue de Choisy, soon encountering Asian delis, travel agencies, hair stylists and restaurants. It's very untouristy and laid-back. And most of the restaurants offer Chinese and Thai food, as well as Vietnamese. I stopped at a simple storefront place that looked busy and ordered a bowl of beef pho for about $6.50. It came with a plate of greens and bean sprouts, and another with sauces and bits of red hot pepper. Then the steaming bowl of soup, with flat noodles, slices of meat and a sort of gingery taste. I'm afraid I didn't like it, so I ordered some bland Chinese-shrimp and broccoli. I didn't like that much either. But I'm spoiled from having lived in New York and visited China.

I guess you wouldn't call this a successful expedition. But I had fun and hope it helps Oanh Ly.

And to Alexander in L.A., who wonders whether I have friends here, since I've rarely mentioned them in the blogs: Yes, I do, not a lot but a few good ones. Mostly we go out to dinner or to a movie. But it would only be fair to say that it's quite difficult for an American to get to know Parisians, unless you really make a concentrated effort. A formal introduction seems necessary; people in my age group don't hook up more casually in restaurants and bars. I have met lots of interesting, nice French people through work, but only a few have become more than sources. And I think of the merchants in my neighborhood almost as friends. They wave and say hi when I pass, sometimes stop to chat in the street. I like that. Come to think of it, at this point in my life I find French reserve and respect for boundaries refreshing. There's something dignified about it. Go figure.

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