The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

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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