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January 2004 Taste of Saigon

For the main event, go for gingery squid with black-bean sauce, garlicky fried frog’s legs, or lemongrass chicken laced with hot peppers.

These twin Vietnamese restaurants done in shades of gray, black, and salmon and showcasing museum-quality ceramics are modern without being hypertrendy—a restful backdrop for perusing the large menu.

Sweet, sour, and salty at the same time, Vietnamese salads make for a zippy beginning—a lobster-flecked version of shredded green papaya tossed with peanuts, lime juice, and fish sauce is a smashing riff on the shrimp-and-pork classic. And Vietnamese ravioli, little cellophane-noodle pillows filled with finely minced carrots, pork, and crab are the definition of savory. Always well done: Saigon-style dumplings in gingery dipping sauce, and the traditional Vietnamese crepe or pancake. Even wonton soup chock full of dumplings and watercress is special.

For the main event, go for gingery squid with black-bean sauce, garlicky fried frog's legs, or lemongrass chicken laced with hot peppers. Also good are pork, peanut, and carrot-stuffed game hen and quail, steamed whole rockfish, and Vietnamese steak—tiny seared cubes to bundle in lettuce. The restaurant is known for its caramel-shrimp and -pork plates and its black-pepper dishes, in which fried meats and seafood meet a piquant sauce made with black pepper. Sometimes they're breadier than need be, but when the fryer's on, look for glorious crunch. Though beers and wines are available, the house-made Vietnamese lemonade—lemon juice, sugar, and soda water—delivers the most authentic sparkle.

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