Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad

I will be back Monday January 4 with new shopping deals, delicious restaurants, and delightful travel tips to usher in 2010. Have a safe and happy holiday season and thank-you for reading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Eve at Chan Dara

Chan Dara is my favorite Thai restaurant, but along with the blessings of blogging about new discoveries comes the curse of constantly finding and trying new places. I haven't been patronizing my old favorites as much, but since Christmas is coming up, several of my friends suggested we have a holiday lunch, and it just happens that Chan Dara is located in an ideal location for all of us to meet.

I chose my favorite fish dish, the Miso Marinated Black Sea Bass with Ginger Ong Choy ($20.50). It was as wonderful as always, served with a garlic and pepper side sauce which gave it a nice refreshing bite as a contrast to the savory, but rich miso sauce.

One of my friends opted for his favorite Grilled Salmon ($19.50) with Coconut Rice and vegetables, which he finished slowly, savoring every bite.

The husband of my friend Shelly had never eaten here before and opted for the Roasted Duck on a bed of Chinese Broccoli ($17.95) for his virginal meal. He was kind enough to offer me a taste after demolishing all but one piece. I'm so glad I got a bite of the juicy honey & hoisin marinated duck meat before all of it disappeared into his stomach.

My friend Shelly has been here with me many times, so she has toured the menu with me. Today she chose Green Bean Garlic Stir Fry ($10.25) with tofu. Because she couldn't quite finish it, she took what was leftover home, unable to leave any deliciousness at the restaurant.

We were all too full to contemplate dessert, but the fresh young coconut juice ($4.95) I had with my meal was my perfect dessert as I scraped the young coconut from the shell.

Holidays are meant to be shared with your favorite people in your favorite places; I was lucky enough to have done that today and I hope you all can enjoy your favorite people and places too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Travel Accessories for 007

If you are stumped trying to find a gift for a frequent traveler who is picky, stylish, and practical, today I've got two solutions for you if you have some $$$$ to spend. These travel accessories are the traveler versions of a pair of Manolo Blahniks or an Armani suit. The artistry and quality of the products account for the pricetag, so even if you can't afford to buy, it is worth looking just to be inspired by the beautiful designs.

If you have ever had your wallet lost or stolen (who hasn't?), then you will appreciate the concept behind the iWallet ($300-600) which uses the biometric data of your fingerprint to secure your money and credit cards. The engineers who designed this worked with NASA, so this is truly state of the art technology. Not only will a thief be unable to access your money, but your ID's will be secure, and if your kids or spouse "borrow" your cash, the iWallet will stop them from using your wallet as their ATM. Next year they will be adding GPS to it so you can locate your wallet; I know some people who need the wallet more for the GPS than for the security feature.

If you are familiar with the German luggage brand Rimowa($400-900), you have probably traveled quite a bit because their first flagship store in the Continental US will open tomorrow in Beverly Hills. If you have watched the sleek Titanium travel cases in movies with envy, now you know where to buy one. You can buy their products through luggage dealers and online, but it is worth a visit to their store to see the displays and arrays of German engineering in beautiful practical Titanium cases that will deliver your bottle of Elit to your destination only slightly shaken.

They say it is better to give than receive, but I say it's better to give AND receive, so buy yourself one of whatever you give away to truly have a happy holiday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hucklebrry Cafe

Restaurants like Huckleberry Cafe which have long lines can be very frustrating if you don't have much time or patience. Yes, the menu is pricey, but the quality ingredients from the Niman Ranch Bacon to the Valrhona chocolate used in the croissants are costly, and it is worth it if you want to eat a wonderful meal.

If you long for a taste of the high quality food at this popular cafe, but have to get your meal to go to work, or go to a show, or go to pick up your kids, the only solution to getting what you want without sacrificing too much time is to pick up food to go that is already prepared. Thankfully Huckleberry has many prepared salads, sandwiches, and side dishes which are ready to go. I picked up their famous Turkey Meatballs (3 for $7.50) and a side of sauteed Spinach ($3.75) to heat up at home. The meatballs were juicy, light, and meaty, served with a tomato sauce that had a hint of cinnamon, giving them a nice slightly sweet flavor. The spinach was nicely sauteed with a little salt and some cayenne pepper to give it a bit of a kick.

Their Beef Brisket is probably the best version I have ever tasted. The meat is tender, flavorful, and robustly fills both the stomach and the senses with a nicely balanced melange of ingredients. I loved details like the whole tomatoes that are cooked down without having been cooked to death. I may never make beef brisket again because why should I go to all that trouble when this perfect dish is available for pick up six days a week? The portion was big enough to serve two for only $8.50.

The wonderful cinnamon sugar doughnut was actually a last minute indulgence at the register. The entire array of baked goods, including Valrhona Chocolate Croissants ($3.50), Old Fashioned Coffee Cake ($5), Blueberry Muffins ($2.75) and Bread Pudding ($6), was just too tempting to resist trying at least one item from the bakery case.

I'm glad I chose the doughnut, but next time I may skip the main courses and just pick up a completely sweet meal for a holiday breakfast.

Huckleberry on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 18, 2009

Santa Monica Pub Crawl & Hollywood Free Food

I live between Santa Monica and Hollywood, so when friends want to go out we sometimes (literally) toss a coin to see which neighborhood will win our business.

This week-end we may have a split decision because Hollywood will have the Ketel One truck serving free food and offering free rides (first come first served) to those who should not drive. Ketel One is literally making good on their ads that say you should "drink responsibly" by not serving any alcohol from their truck and offering nibbles prepared by The Gorbals' chef Ilan Hall to soak up whatever you have imbibed along the Hollywood party corridor. They will be parked on Cahuenga between Hollywood and Selma from midnight to 2 am tonight and tomorrow night.

Santa Monica is holding a Pub Crawl for the first time this Saturday. The crawl will be fun entertainment while promoting good will because a portion of the proceeds will go towards the Westside Food Bank. There will be carolers, reindeer, elves, and many Santas (participants are encouraged to dress up). Bring a nonperishable food item to drop off and don't forget your camera if you want to participate in the scavenger hunt (or if you just want to have some memory of the event).

Decisions, decisions, maybe Hollywood tonight and Santa Monica Saturday night, because deciding to have it all is probably the best decision.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shop & Eat Free Food

What are you doing tonight? If you don't have any plans and want to do some shopping while nibbling on free cheese and crackers, fried chicken, cookies, and desserts, all while drinking free cocktails, then head over to Beverly Blvd between Curson and La Brea between 6 and 9pm tonight. Shops along the Boulevard are giving shoppers extra discounts and restaurants are giving away free food and drinks to get you into a festive mood as you finish finding all your holiday gifts for others. If you spend $75 or more at one of the participating retail shops, like l.a. Eye Works, Suss Design, Rehab Vintage Interiors, Ten Over Six, and Diane Merrick Clothing Salon, you can get a coupon for a free dessert at BLD or Grace. If you want mixed drinks, Buddha's Belly will have them in an extended happy hour, so eat, drink and be merry as you shop.

For those of you who have shopping to do for the foodies in your life (or for yourself), go over to Epicure Imports in North Hollywood tomorrow (Friday from 1:30 pm to 6pm) and Saturday (from 9:30am-2pm) to raid this exclusive gourmet pantry for goodies. Whether you are stocking up for a holiday fete for friends with some Foie Gras (while it is still legal to buy in the US), a fig vinegar, some fleur de sel, or one of the imported French cheeses or chocolates, this is the place to get it for wholesale prices (because this place is where chefs go for these delectable products). They will be offering samples of many of the items for sale, so be smart and start with the savory bites before indulging in the chocolates. The warehouse is only open to the public six times a year, so this is the last time this year you will get an opportunity to shop and taste things you must usually fly abroad to buy. Go early and bring a list (or you may end up overwhelmed by the choices and variety).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fabulous Sodas & Free Socks

Galco's Soda Pop Shop (trying saying that three times fast) makes small batches of 450 flavors of fizzy goodness. Do you love old fashioned cream sodas or root beer? Or are you more adventurous and want to try a spicy ginger or an aromatic rose soda? They carry Kosher, Diet, high energy, non carbonated, sugar (as in cane sugar), and 90 imported sodas, so you can buy the flavor you miss from home or from your latest vacation. If you want something truly exotic, they carry lemongrass, lavender, and a flavor called "Brain Wash Blue" all for very reasonable prices ($2-$3 a bottle). To minimize shipping costs they recommend you buy in multiples of 12 (a case) unless you live in Los Angeles and can stop by their retail store to pick up your order.

This next offer is so much better than the giveaway balloons that auto dealerships used to offer for test driving a new model car; Lucy is giving away THREE pairs of their essential socks for free if you stop by and try on a pair of the Hatha Power Pant (while supplies last) December 18-20, 2009.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Food Forward

Some of my friends are lucky enough to have yards and mature fruit trees in their yards (yes, in Los Angeles). Luck can be a relative thing when the oranges, apples, and lemons start to ripen and there are too many to eat, juice and give away to friends and neighbors.

Food Forward has a solution which allows you to donate your excess fresh produce to food banks and others who need it; all you have to do is have enough ripe fruit (6-8 shopping bags worth) for the volunteers to come pick it (yes, they will even pick it for you). They give priority to those with 150 lbs or more of fruit to harvest and 100% of all the donations are then distributed on a need basis with the most needy food pantries receiving the first fruits of the season.

If you don't have a yard or fruit to donate, you can still help as a volunteer as they go on the "Big Picks" to orchards where they need dozens of people to help harvest up to 11,ooo pounds of fruit; this is one way of truly giving the fruits of your labor to those in need and who will appreciate it the most.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loews Coronado for $109

Coronado Island is a great place to walk, rent bikes, and escape while being only minutes away from the action in the Gaslamp. The Silver Strand section is a private 15 acre nature preserve with a luxury hotel on it one side and the beach on the other side of the peninsula.

So if all the holiday get togethers are making you want to get away from it all, head over to the four star Loews Coronado. They are offering a special room rate of $109 a night (that's 60% off the regular room rate of $260 a night) through March. The rate includes Christmas, New Year's, and Valentine's Day (but excludes some other dates). You must reserve by Christmas to get this rate either here or by calling 800-815-6397 and mentioning the promo code TRAVELZOO. For only $20 more you can upgrade to a deluxe room with a private patio or balcony.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brooks Brothers 40% off Today

When everyone is out shopping for gifts, it's a gift to shoppers when quality stores have sales not on Black Friday, but on a regular Friday like today!

Brooks Brothers is having a one day 40% off sale on all women's Fall apparel both in stores and online until 11:59pm tonight; if you spend $200 or more, they will also include free shipping on online orders. Yes, this includes the fabulous no-iron dress shirts featured on Oprah, which you can buy today for $53.70. The sale is only for women's dress shirts, merino and cashmere sweaters, and trousers, but does not include their black fleece items. The selection is so wide that you will find blouses, tunics, dresses, and evening gowns, so if you can't find the perfect present for a woman in your life here, maybe you can find something from Santa for yourself!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

San Pedro Cafe & Deli

Some of my friends live in San Pedro and every once in a while (once a year) I make the drive to them so we can eat in their neighborhood. San Pedro Cafe has been a favorite lunch spot for decades. Their menu says that it is "Monkey Approved" whatever that means; I think it probably means that monkeys love their food as much as humans do.

What's not to love? They roast their own turkey and they grill their own chicken for all their dishes. The cafe uses fresh vegetables for their salads, and their menu includes everything anyone could wish to eat at an American breakfast/lunch cafe, including omelettes, salads, sandwiches, and full plates of fish & chips or burgers, most for under $10.

My friend Dar had their grilled chicken salad because she loves their salad dressing, and yes that is half an avocado you see in the salad next to a huge portion of chicken breast.

Since I had just gotten up, I was craving bacon, so I ordered the turkey club on sourdough toast. The turkey was moist and tasted as if it was made that morning; and even though they tasted as if they had been frozen, the fries were salty, crispy and a little spicy.

Somehow we both managed to finish our lunches and go on to work all afternoon without taking a nap.

It may only be an annual trek for me to go to San Pedro, but if you are in the area or go there often, the San Pedro cafe is worth a stop for basic American food done the old fashioned way, with fresh products and pleasant service.

Like American Bandstand, some things never go out of style.

San Pedro Cafe & Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

$50 Runway Dress $500 Glass Shoe

If you saw the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" then you have heard of Bag, Borrow, or Steal where you can rent an authentic designer handbag for a week or several at a fraction of the cost of buying it. The concept is that you get to carry a handbag worth several thousand for only a few hundred (or less) so you can test drive it and see if you would like to actually buy it or exchange it for another model at the end of your rental. This is a great idea if you have an event you want to attend with a special accessory, or if you would like a taste of living as one of the rich and famous without having to mortgage your house.

Now you can also rent a dress straight off the runway starting at $50 from Rent The Runway which offers a similar concept for clothes; you get designer fashions the same way you get your movies from Netflix, in a prepaid package, and they will send you two sizes so you don't have to worry about the fit. Use the promo code INSTYLEFREE, and you will be able to rent one dress and get one free rental.

For those of your who want to indulge your Champagne tastes with actual Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, then $500 will get you a bottle of the Cuvee Brut and an actual Christian Louboutin black stiletto (made of crystal) so you can perform the ritual of drinking Champagne from a "glass slipper".

Now nearly every woman can be Cinderella and nearly every man can be Prince Charming without having to worry about the clock striking midnight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Global Gift Cards

No one really wants another tie or another set of gift soaps, but everyone wants to help others. For the last decade I have given holiday gifts to charities for the holidays instead of buying things for people I love. I still give gifts on birthdays and throughout the year as I find things as "surprise" gifts", but I no longer give physical gifts when other people give them at the end of the year.

I don't remember exactly how or why I started this tradition; I probably heard of someone else doing it or I was simply too frustrated trying to find parking and gifts when everyone else was trying to do exactly the same thing at the same time. But now my nontraditional tradition has roots and branches as others have adopted this holiday twist over the years.

Some people would like to both give to charity and also have something tangible to give to their loved ones, so Global gift cards may be the perfect solution to provide both a 100% charitable solution for all your gift needs and at the same time providing a physical card you can give people showing your gift in their name to a charity of their choice. You can send an e-card which will be delivered on the date you specify or you can print out your gift at home and insert it into a card or stocking. Depending on the amount of your gift card, Global Giving will also give you a hand crafted scarf from Nepal when you donate $75 or more, and you will get a complimentary copy of the book "Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World" when you donate $100 or more with the code "GROWNUPS" at checkout.

So for all of you who hate to shop but love doing good for the global family, this is a great way for your recipients to choose the charity they would like to receive this year's holiday cheer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Free $100 Meal at New Aria Restaurant

Here in the US I am used to paying for all my meals (and often also paying for the meals of my dinner companions), but in a faraway place called Europe there are still restaurants which give the women menus without prices (because it is assumed that the men are paying for the meal); ah what a wonderful place to live, where meals at fine restaurants are literally priceless!

How wonderful to find a special deal with MGM in Las Vegas that gives everyone (yes men also get the deal) a $100 fine dining credit at one of the new Aria resort fine restaurants when you book a stay at the MGM! Just use code INB304 when you book. Since I am going to see Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis in January and staying at the Encore, I decided to stay an extra night just to eat at the new Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant in the New City Center. Just make sure you reserve your table when you make your room reservation.

Since a week-end room in the new West Wing was only $119 a night, that means my extra night will only run me $19 for my room since I intend to spend the entire $100 credit eating and drinking at Jean Georges! I guess you could also look at it the other way and consider you meal free with a week-end night cost of $119.

You may choose to use your dining credit at any of the fine dining restaurants at Aria, so you can choose New York chef Masa Takayama, whose Japanese cuisine will makes it's debut in Las Vegas with Barmasa, or James Beard award winning Chicago chef Shawn McClain's new American cuisine, or Micheal Mina's fifth Las Vegas restaurant, or famed Spanish chef Julian Serrano of the legendary Picasso, and a nine-time recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award.

Hmmm maybe I could also do what I did once in NYC...have appetizers in one, entree in another, and dessert in a third restaurant:)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Comme Ca Repeal Week-End

This deal is too good not to pass on, so I'm writing on a Saturday!

Comme Ca is having a repeal day week-end with your first drink at regular price ($11) and your second one only 76 cents if you say the secret password "Roosevelt".

Go drink and be merry, just make sure you have a designated driver or take a cab home.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Best Parking Rates & Parking your Tweets Permanently

When I was driving my French friends around I realized that I know where to park in the neighborhoods I frequent, but when I traveled outside my "known areas" I was just like any other tourist looking for parking that was convenient but not too pricey.

There is now a website which allows you to find the best spots by the day or by the month at most of the major airports, and some of the major cities across the US called Best Parking. For the cities, you can search by address, cross street, neighborhood or attraction; for the airports, a map shows you the location of each structure and allows you to specify the dates you want to find parking.

If you are addicted to Twitter and have some tweets you would like immortalized in print, check into Tweetbookz which will print and bind your last 200 tweets (one tweet per page) from your twitter account, and yes, you can choose which ones to include or not in your book. All this costs $30 for a hardcover or $20 for a softcover, and takes between 3-5 days depending on the type of cover you want for your book. All covers are full color and all pages are printed on recycled white paper in black. If you want pass out your tweets as a holiday gift, order yours now so you can say, "I wrote this book".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sashi Sushi + Sake

I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by a restaurant, and today I felt as if I got an unexpected gift at Sashi Sushi + Sake in Manhattan Beach. The restaurant is in the Metlox center, just steps from the beach and other fine restaurants, so there is plenty of competition around them which provide beautiful surroundings and wonderful food.

The space has a large covered outdoor terrace that looks out over the central square with a small dancing water area, so it's the perfect place to sit when the weather is warm. Even though it was a chilly day (for Southern California this means it hovered around 50 degrees), I chose to sit outside on the cushioned seats and people watch. Thankfully I had a wide selection of seats, so I chose the one closest to the heat lamp and was comfortable throughout my meal. A complimentary dish of edamame was brought out with the menus and I appreciated having something healthy to munch on while I perused the selections of sushi, sake and other Asian style dishes.

I ordered the dry "Summer" sake selection ($10) and enjoyed it's clean light taste, I also tried to order the Kanpachi sushi as an appetizer, but they were out of nearly all the white fish sushi, including the halibut and the fluke, so I ordered the Grilled Asian Flank Steak Salad ($16).

The salad is made with BBQ Indian Spice Marinated Flank Steak, Avocado, Mango, Mixed Cabbage, Bocconcini Cheese, Red Bell Peppers, Peanuts, Vine Tomato, Mint and Basil served with Sweet Chili Lime Vinaigrette. It was as tasty as it looked, with the steak done on the rare side (my preference even though I did not specify when I ordered), and all the vegetables were crisp and freshly chopped. The combination of mango, fresh basil with peeled vine tomatoes and bocconcini mozzarella in the salad was a successful taste twist on an Asian inspired salad.

My server, Cynthia was the epitome of an efficient professional, suggesting various substitutions for sushi items not available, and being instantly available even when not immediately visible to provide anything I might have needed.

Pleasant surprises are always the best ones, and Sashi is one of the best surprises I have had in awhile.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Peacekeeper Cause-Metics

A better way to buy lipsticks, gloss and nail polish is to shop for them at Peacekeeper, which combines great products with great causes to create the perfect win-win for everyone.This is a company which donates ALL of their after tax distributable profits to women's health and human rights advocacy groups. Peacekeeper is to "cause-metics" what Newman's Own is to food; a way to literally put your money where your mouth is (or in Peacekeeper's case, on your lips). Prices are all under $15 (except for kits/gift packages) and they are all available in a rainbow of shades for every skin type.

Not only are the products pretty, but they are also clean, and they explain the ingredients used as well as the toxicity of each product line (including the usually very toxic nail polish remover) here. With so many harmful chemicals used in cosmetics, it is refreshing to know that efforts have been made to use "no nasty" ingredients in all of their products.

The causes range from providing micro loans to women, to helping stop domestic violence and genital mutilation. Knowing that the products you buy all contribute to a solution may lead you to donating more directly to these great causes, so become a Peacekeeper partner in the quest for a cleaner, safer, more peaceful world.

Peacekeeper gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "a beautiful world".

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

San Francisco Hotel Sale

If you took advantage of the flight sales in yesterday's post and now you need a place to stay in San Francisco, Quikbook has some great deals if you book before 5pm EST (2pm PST) on Friday, 12/4/09.

The Huntington Hotel and Nob Hill Spa is located in one of the best neighborhoods of San Francisco. This is one of those gems that offers personalized concierge service, valet laundry, twice daily maid service, and free access to the fitness area, combined with modern hotel perks like wireless internet, fax and electronic safes. I love the thoughtful touches that the hotel gives guests, like terry robes and complimentary morning papers. The Spa, located inside the hotel, offers four styles of treatments; Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Victorian. Rates through Quikbook during this sale are at 50% off, which means you can get the best view of the city with cable car access for as little as $150 a night.

If you want to be closer to the action in San Francisco, you might like the Adagio, located within easy walking distance to Union Square, Moscone Convention Center, and the Financial District. The hotel has all the business traveler could ask for, including high speed internet access, iPod docking alarm clocks, refrigerator, mini bar, and access to a fitness center and business services on site. All this for 40% off with the Quikbook sale means you only need to pay about $83 a night.

Time is money, and in this case if you want to save some money, book your San Francisco hotel before Friday.

Monday, November 30, 2009

$39 NY - SFO

They call today Cyber Monday; the Internet Sale day for consumers who want to get deals just like the ones in stores last Friday. I saw this deal and could hardly believe my eyes; Southwest has a fare from NYC to San Francisco for $39 each way December 7-11, 2009 (and returns on December 11-14, 2009 are also $39). Fares do not include taxes or fees, but even with those charges, this is still a great deal! If you have any friends who live in New York and they want to come visit before the holidays, you can buy them tickets to sunny (warm) California and join them in San Francisco for a holiday.

Getting from Los Angeles to San Francisco is also on sale today because Alaska, Virgin America, United, and American Airlines are ALL posting fares of $39 each way (excluding all taxes and fees). Hurry and buy your tickets now while there are still seats left and while these fares are still good; like Cinderella, they will disappear at the stroke of midnight (if they don't get sold out by then).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Circus or Cardio

If you haven't already gone to see the Cirque du Soleil show Kooza at the Santa Monica Pier, your procrastination may end up saving you 40% off weekday tier 1 & 2 tickets if you order online here. The show in Santa Monica runs through December 20, then moves on to Irvine January 8-31, with a 40% reduction there too for weekday tier 1 & 2 shows through this link. Unfortunately this discount does not apply to the Tapis Rouge Experience or tier 3 tickets, but if you want to see the show, this is a great price for great seats.

If you are one of the millions who ate too much at your Thanksgiving feast yesterday and now want to work it off, then head over to your nearest Gold's Gym. They have their usual offer of a free 7 day trial membership, but if you go in this week-end, you can simply go and work out free without any further commitment. I wonder how much sweat it takes to burn off 5 lbs of Thanksgiving dinner?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Friday Savings

Many people will be heading to the stores in malls this Friday for the biggest shopping day of the year, but as much as I love to shop, I also hate crowds. The best thing to do if you want great deals without the crowds is to shop locally in your neighborhood stores. So many of the great small shops have closed or are struggling these days, so if you want local shops, shop locally and enjoy a less crowded and more personal shopping experience.

Twist is having their first "Black Friday" sale, offering 25% off all things black, and $25 off all full size leather handbags if you simply mention the words "Black Friday Sale" before you pay for your purchases.

The Address Boutique is offering 50% off a second item of equal value or less, when you buy one. The sale starts Friday, goes on for three day, and includes everything except gift certificates, so load up on designer clothes, shoes, accessories and handbags.

If you want to shop for travel, go online to the Club Med website where they are having a sale from 6am-4pm EST (9am-1pm PST) on Friday with prices at three resorts for only $99 per adult and $60 per child, for an ALL inclusive vacation! When you keep in mind this includes meals and activities, this is truly a bargain. If you prefer to call, the call center 1-888-WEB CLUB will open at 9am EST (6am PST).

And finally if you want to save your money for something special, Friday is also the day when ING Direct will be having a savings sale, with special rates for one day only.

Spend or save? Maybe a little of both....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LA Cachette Bistro

La Cachette Bistro has many qualities, the best of which is that they actually make real French food with fresh local and organic meats and vegetables. Of the fours dishes we tried, three were hits and only one was a miss, so the execution of the menu is definitely good, with some room for improvement.

Their location by the ocean with a secluded tranquil patio and an inviting indoor seating area, makes this a nice choice for either business or romantic affairs. Service was good when we were seated and ordered, but once our food was delivered to the table, we could not find a server or bus person to ask for our check; even with a change of shift, someone should always be within sight if there are customers still eating their meals.

The house salad was dressed in a lemony mustard vinaigrette that was very basic but also very good for a simple accompaniment to any entree.

The beet tower was a construction of both beauty and bountiful flavor made with roasted organic beets, avocados, feta, Heirloom tomatoes, and crispy goat cheese ravolini with cumin that were a surprisingly creative addition to this plate of perfection. It comes as either an appetizer (1 tower for $10) or entree (2 towers for $15).

The Cassoulet ($19) was full of the rich comforting flavors of duck confit, home made duck sausage, lamb shoulder, and pork shoulder. This is one of the better versions I have had in a restaurant, and it is perfect for a cold or overcast day (if there ever is one in Southern California) if you love French country soul food.

I could only finish half the Cassoulet, but I will be enjoying it tomorrow as I decide what my next meal will be at La Cachette Bistro (probably the organic beef tartare $14 appetizer or $18 entree). They have a lunch special prix fixe for only $15 that includes three courses with or without meat, and a happy hour from 5-7pm Monday through Fridays, so you don't have to spend a fortune to eat good French food.

Bon Appetit!

La Cachette Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stevie Wonderful Package

If you don't have any plans for November 28, 2009 (yes, that is THIS Saturday), you may want to take advantage of one of the great packages to see Stevie Wonder at the MGM in Las Vegas. If you only want to go for the show and stay one night, it's only $199 for one night's deluxe room accommodations and two $105 tickets to see the show. If you go for the show, and you want to stay 2 nights, the package with two $105 tickets, is only $299, and for two $105 tickets and 3 nights, the package is $399.

Sometimes it is great to get out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday and away from the insanity of family get togethers; what better way than to go to a Wonder filled show for spectacular prices.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ulysses Voyage Restaurant

I'm planning my first trip to Greece next year (actually I've planned a trip before but weather or time limits kept me from actually going) and since one of my visiting friends speaks some Greek and lived in Greece for several years, we decided to go to Ulysses Voyage in the Grove/Farmer's Market for a taste of Greece.

My friend greeted the hostess in Greek and she answered in Greek; it is always a good sign when the people who work in an ethnic restaurant actually have some knowledge of the culture or language. We sat outside on a beautiful warm day, ordered appetizers to share, and since we were havng a Greek experience in Los Angeles, we ordered Ouzo and Retsina to drink. A bread basket of Kalamata olive and rosemary rolls arrived with our drinks and they proved to be a wonderful prelude of things to come.

We started with the Taramolasata, a whipped caviar dip similar to hummus that was creamy, savory, and addictive with the warm soft pita bread served on the side.

The Smelt Marides, fried whole smelt with lemon and salt. For anyone who has never tried smelt, they are like tasty fish fries (if you have a problem with eating the fish head, just hold the head and eat it down to your fingers).

And the Spanakopita, the famous Greek spinach and feta filled filo pastry, which was made in this case with onions and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was one of the best versions of this classic appetizer I have ever tasted.

Finally we all shared a Greek salad (we ate it so fast it was impossible to take a pic before it was gone) with red and yellow peppers, thinly sliced red onions, (pitted) Kalamata olives, diced cucumbers. and chunks of fresh firm feta. It was a festival of colors and freshness; a perfect finish to a perfect afternoon snack.

I can't wait to have Greek food in Greece, but until I take my trip, I will come back to Ulyssses for a taste of Greece in Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Meeting in Person

In today's Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace era of "meeting" people, many friends are virtual; you know people from their pictures or posting online, but you've never actually seen them in person. As in most things, this kind of friendship has both advantages and drawbacks; we get to interact with different people we may not have "met" otherwise, but we also miss out on the personal nuances of spending time with someone in person.

Safety is a big concern when meeting anyone in person, and now there is an online way to find out if the person you are meeting is who they say they are, and if it is worth spending any time with that person. Date Check is a service that allows you to use your mobile phone to see if your date has a criminal record; all you need is their name and telephone number (which you should have). They have various variations on what you can check for, from "sleaze" (felonies, sex offenses), to $$$ (property), and living situation (other people at the residence, mom & dad or perhaps a wife). The app works with both Blackberry and iPhone (as well as other types of smart phones), so download it if you are meeting someone new, and USE it if you are meeting someone in person for the first time (even if they are already a virtual "friend".

What if you don't have anyone you want to meet in person even though you have 200 followers on Twitter, and 100 friends on Facebook? Sign up for By/Association which is about introducing you to quality interesting people (this is NOT a dating site, although you might make that kind of connection through this). They just introduce you to ONE person you might want to meet IN PERSON each month based on your interests. To join you must fill in an application and if you are approved, they will charge you monthly for membership ($99 per year right now). If you apply and are accepted in 2009, your fees will be waived for the first month.

Their definition of a network is one in which the connections last and are bound together by more than simply business or superficial liens; think of this as your personal matchmaker for friendships. Their manifesto says that a new definition of wealth "should be based on creativity, innovation, and social benefit". Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paradise Cove Beach Cafe

I lived in Los Angeles for decades before someone who worked and lived in Malibu showed me Paradise Cove Beach Cafe; I would never have found it or even explored it if it hadn't been a local. Many people all over the world have seen the beach and pier on numerous television shows and movies; it is the go to location for beach shots because it is secluded and a beautiful natural background. My friends from France said this was truly Heaven; a California beach as they had always imagined it would be from the films. Entry to the parking lot is $25 for the day (or any portion thereof), but it's only $3 for 3 hours if you order at least $20 at the cafe and get your ticket validated. Prices at the cafe are so reasonable that you may have to order two appetizers or two entrees to reach the $20 threshold.

In 1996 one of the the original family family members who owned the land in the 1950's bought it back in 1996 and now Bob Morris is raising his family the way he was raised. Apparently he was raised with a fun atmosphere, fresh seafood, and very copious portions. Old photographs show how the place has changed and grown from a dirt road path to the beach to a paved road with a light! It would be a punishment if the portion sizes he serves were what his parents told him to eat before going to bed; two of my friends and I shared three appetizers and we ended up eating the leftovers for a second meal.

We had the shrimp cocktail with a mix of big and small shrimp on top of a bed of shredded iceberg.

The fried calamari on top of a bed of french fries in a HUGE glass.

And their famous BBQ Shrimp Quesadilla.

The plates were so big that at a booth for four, the three of us had trouble managing to put all the appetizers in the center of the table! Big is not always good, but the seafood was fresh in all three versions of appetizers, and there was enough flavor that we wanted to eat it all without needing the cocktail or tarter sauces served on the side.

There is usually at least an hour wait for an outdoor table, but even the indoor spots have a nice view in several directions, thanks to the big picture windows. If you don't want to eat inside and don't want to wait for hours, pick up some food to go and take it to the outdoor seating areas that are adjacent to the restaurant where there are no servers, but where you can have a picnic at the beach with restaurant food. The daybeds are great for friends and or families to hang out, but bring your own towels to drape over them to keep you clothes from the bird or food debris that may be on them.

So come by for lunch, hang out at the beach and maybe you can picture what life was like about 50 years ago...or maybe you're one of the lucky locals who remembers!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sammy's Wood Fired Pizza

While playing tourist guide through San Diego, one of my visiting foreign friends wanted to try an "American" pizza (as opposed to an Italian one, which she has already had in Italy). Sammy's Wood Fired Pizza is in the heart of the famous Gaslamp district, so it was an easy lunch stop before we headed over to Old Town.

After we looked over the menu, no one wanted pizza; we opted for a salad, rolled tacos, and Ahi sliders instead. It is surprising how easily swayed from our original choice we can all be when it comes to food. It was also surprising how good the non-pizza food was at a place named as a pizza restaurant. Sammy's was in the top five places named by Zagat eaters in San Diego, so the locals already know what we were about to found out; Sammy's has something to please every kind of palate.

We chose the grilled shrimp salad with mixed greens, bell peppers, feta, roasted sunflower seeds, scallions, cilantro, grilled garlic shrimp, and a Balsamic basil dressing (which is made fresh daily); the rolled steak tacos with marinated steak, guacamole, pepper jack, scallions, cilantro, and served with salsa; and the Ahi sliders with ginger miso sauce and cucumbers. The service was very professional, but misunderstood the salad order, bringing out a grilled chicken balsamic salad (pictured) instead of the grilled shrimp salad we ordered. Our server apologized profusely for her mistake, but it did not bother us since we were sharing plates. The kitchen immediately made us the correct order and the manager offered us the Balsamic chicken salad gratis.

When the shrimp salad finally came, it was thoroughly enjoyed by my friend who said she loved the slightly sweet dressing and the slightly spicy shrimp. My other friend loved everything about her rolled steak tacos, from the salsa to the coleslaw that came with them; she said the steak was juicy, tender and perfectly balanced with the other ingredients in the tacos. My Ahi sliders came on delightfully soft slightly sweet rolls (think Hawaiian bread), with a slice of cucumber and the dressing. Although I found the sliders themselves tasty, they could have been hotter (they arrived barely warm); the fries on my order were also barely warm, so I suspect they may have made my order first as the kitchen waited for the other orders at my table to be completed.

We were all full from our meals and tried to have them take the mistaken salad order back, but they said it would be thrown out if we didn't take it, so we bagged it to go. We ended up giving it away to some hungry people at Horton Plaza; some people in the park ate a very nice lunch that day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Counter Burgers

For anyone unfamiliar with the customized burger restaurant (or familiar with the concept but not the execution), I would suggest that you test drive both the concept and the execution at your local Counter. The restaurant is multiplying; not only do they now have 12 locations in California, but they are in other states from Connecticut to Hawaii, and even other countries, like Australia and Ireland.

The last time I visited was well over a year ago, so it was time for a check-up to see if the place was still as efficient and tasty as it was when there was a line down the block just to get in and place an order. If we had to eat during the 12-1pm typical lunch hour there may have been a wait for a table, but I was very grateful to find that there is no line to get in when I came in with my friends from France who wanted to try an American hamburger. Even though the big Mc Chain is appearing in some formerly sacred spaces (like inside the LOUVRE!), my friends were smart enough to ask me for the "real thing" on which the Mc Chain concept was based (food lovers tend to flock together).

There are four types of burgers to choose from, including the beef raised without any hormones or antibiotics, turkey, grilled chicken, or veggie, or you can do a burger salad if you don't want any one the 3 types of buns. Depending on how hungry you are, you can choose 1/3 pound to a full pound of the protein of your choice, then you have 10 cheeses to choose from, 18 regular toppings (you may choose up to 4 included in your burger price) and 10 premium toppings (available for an additional price). I was disappointed to find they had removed the special salmon burger, but in this economy it is better to offer fewer popular options. There are certainly enough choices for most people to create their version of a perfect burger.

I chose to have my 1/3 pound beef burger on a salad of mixed greens with tomatoes, sprouts, pepperoncinis and grilled onions.

One of my friends wanted the "classic" beef burger on a bun with Gruyere, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato.

My other friend chose the veggie burger with hard boiled eggs (yes, I thought it was strange too, but she wanted that option and since she was the one who was going to eat it, I did not say yuck), tomatoes, mixed greens and dill pickles.

We all split the fries which the French experts called "great" with crispy exteriors, creamy interiors and just enough salt to make them addictive even when they got cold.

None of us had any room for dessert, but everyone enjoyed what they had chosen and everyone cleaned their plates, not even leaving any trace of a topping! Good things tend to get better with age and experience, so let's hope the Counter grows into a nice ripe old age and moves into your neighborhood soon if it isn't already there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Free Flying WiFi

Some of the best things I have ever tried have been free, from samples of perfumes, to amuse-bouches (literally fun mouth = samples of food) that make me want more; people say that drug dealers always give away the first sample and you end up paying for the rest of your life. If that is true then free WiFi in airports will get us all hooked and we will never again go on a flight without paying for access to get online before we get on the plane.

Google is giving away free WiFi at 47 airports and on Virgin America flights until January 15, 2010, and they are giving even more by matching donations to any of three charities which appear on the browser page that you log into during this period.

Ebay is giving away free Wifi during Thanksgiving week on some Delta flights, and Yahoo is giving away free WiFi in Times Square (for an undetermined period of time).

It seems the common denominator in all the free WiFi is that you must fly somewhere this holiday season, so where are you going?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Viva Elvis

Cirque du Soleil has a new show opening December 18, 2009 in Las Vegas which incorporates the music and life of Elvis Presley into a stage production called Viva Elvis. For fans of Elvis or fans of Cirque du Soleil, it's always a pleasure to get something new to love in time for the holidays; especially when that something new comes with a discount for preview shows if you join the Cirque Club and use the code CIRQUE on the Ticketmaster website for shows between December 18, 2009-January 28,2010 (you save $25 in category A seats which will be $175 each after the preview). I bought my ticket and got FRONT ROW center, so if you really want great seats, buy them TODAY!

The show will open in the new Aria Resort & Casino opening December 1, 2009 in the City Center complex with rooms starting at $159 and suites in the $400 range; as a grand opening special, you can get a third night free when you stay two by using code ARMG3NT either on their website or by calling them.

Viva Cirque!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans for Peace

"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent." -- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Those who know the experience of war want only peace. Veteran's for Peace is a non-governmental organization represented in the United Nations working towards peaceful and effective alternatives to war and militarism.

Let's all use our actions to promote peace today in whatever way we can, even if it is simply to walk away from an argument.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dreaming of New York?

The mild temperatures here in Southern California during Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a relief for those freezing in snow and ice storms, but for those of us who have lived here for many years, it can be boring. No leaves changing color, no snowflakes to delight in, or snowmen to make, and even worse for some of us fashionistas, no reason to wear our winter boots and sweaters.

A short trip to New York can give you all the advantages of Winter, but with few drawbacks, after all when you are staying in a hotel, you don't have to shovel snow or drive on ice to get to work. Winter is also a beautiful season to go see the decorations at Rockefeller Plaza, watch the ice skaters in Central Park, or even join them.

The Dream hotel is located right in the middle of it all, just 8 blocks from Radio City Music Hall (which always has a holiday show spectacular), 4 blocks from Central Park and one block to Carnegie Hall. Your entertainment is literally steps away, so you don't need to take a cab or a subway. Quikbook is having a sale if you book your room by 11/12/09, you'll get a 20% discount on rooms starting at $184 a night, and with Quikbook you don't have to prepay for your room, so you only pay for for your stay when you check-out!

The Dream houses the Chopra Center below the lobby, so you can actually just stay in the hotel and enjoy some therapeutic treatments, or have room service bring meals to you during 18 hours of every day (they have to sleep too you know). The hotel offers a combination of old world and new world in terms of services, with both high speed internet access and a complimentary overnight shoe shine. They even welcome pets for an additional fee, so you can share your winter getaway with your furry friends. If the weather is nice, head up to the rooftop bar AVA and enjoy the city lights wrapped in your warm clothes, knowing that your warm room is just downstairs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Green Street

I was out of my West side neighborhood over the week-end and found Green Street Restaurant behind the Williams-Sonoma store on Lake Avenue. It was the only place that wasn't advertising burgers, a bar, and beer, so I went in hoping for something green, like a salad. They are famous for their Diane salad, a version of Chinese Chicken, with asian crisp noodles, shredded lettuce, sesame seeds, and sliced chicken, served with a tangy sweet dressing.

It appeared that every table was ordering it and according to the restaurant, it is their most popular dish. It arrived almost immediately after I ordered it and it was HUGE, but sadly also a huge disappointment. The chicken was tender but completely bland, which was probably purposeful because the sweet dressing drenched the salad and made it practically inedible. If I were to ever order this again I would definitely specify dressing on the side. The orange slices were a nice touch, but something else that would add some color and freshness to the salad would have been a better addition. Nearby tables had equally huge spinach salads with grilled shrimp, pasta primavera, and tri tip blue cheese sandwiches which all looked good; I probably should have ordered something other than the Diane Salad, but I wanted to try the most popular dish.

The saving grace was the zucchini bread that came with the salad; it was fantastic, moist, flavorful, and not too sweet. There were many nice things to be said about Green Street, from the welcoming decor and hostess, to the efficient server and busboys. It might be worth trying again, but next time I'll skip the most popular dish and go renegade with something more exotic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Deals on Wynn, Bristish Airways Biz Class & Jewlery

Want to Wynn this winter? The Wynn Las Vegas has a deal through February 28, 2010 with rooms at only $109 a night and a $50 resort credit if you book at least three nights. Just use promo code RCWHE17 when you book.

If you crave something further afield, book a flight on British Airways and get a business class seat for only $590 one way (based on RT purchase) from New York to Paris, all you have to do is book by December 15, 2009.

And finally for those who wish to get a material object for the holidays, book your flight on British Airways Open Skies and present your confirmation to the Mauboussin store in NYC to get 20% off your purchase of fine jewelry.

Time to ask Santa what you want if you've been good this year.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mandarin or Sofitel?

The Mandarin Oriental hotel is opening in Las Vegas at the brand new City Center (right next to the Belllagio) and to entice visitors to come they are offering one night free if you stay two nights or more ($545 a night) through February 28, 2010. It's a great way to end the year or start the new one at the newest luxury resort on the Strip for a bargain opening price.

Perfect Escapes has a great deal for the Sofitel on the Champs Elysees, with rates starting at 225 Euros (about $330 USD today), you get a fourth night free if you stay at least three (and who would stay for less than four days in Paris?) in a superior or luxury room, a complimentary upgrade based on availability, and a early check-in, late check out. Just ask for offer OID: 925.

Luxury in the center of it all, now you just have to decide whether you want the City Center of neon lights or City of Lights.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tender Greens

It's always comforting to find that a restaurant I liked years ago is still doing a great job. I went shopping at Surfas and found some Peugeot salt and pepper mills ($44.88 each here, about $10 cheaper than at Sur La Table) and some demi glace to use for a decadent Boeuf Bourguignon. I looked over the menu at their new cafe Culinary District, and saw that they had great looking sandwiches, and a nice selection of prepared sides, so I will come back to try their food one day, but that day was not today because I wanted a salad, so I decided to head over to Tender Greens in Culver City for lunch.

I chose one of their Big Salads (all are $10.50), the grilled Flatiron Steak, served with butter lettuces, chives, radishes, and delicious red and gold beets in a horseradish vinaigrette. It was truly big and if I had eaten more than toast for breakfast I would have had to take half of it to go; I managed to finish it, but could not fit in any dessert. My other favorite Big Salad is the tuna Nicoise served very rare (seared on the outside only), green beans, tomatoes, capers, potatoes, quail egg, and a sherry vinaigrette. I love the choices here that allow vegans and vegetarians to eat alongside omnivores with choices that are as interesting and varied as the meat centric dishes. Meat eaters can choose chicken or steak on a hot plate with potatoes and vegetables, vegetarians can choose sandwiches or soups or a grilled veggie plate with hummus, and even raw food eaters have an option of eight raw vegetables with raw nuts.

Options are one of the greatest joys of life, especially when it comes to food.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jones Hollywood Turns 15 Today

For anyone who is up late (like me) and always looking for a place that serves either food or drinks or both past 9 pm, you might want to stop by Jones Hollywood today to celebrate their 15th anniversary. They are rolling back prices today from noon (now) until 2 am on name brand cocktails for $5; these are not well drinks, they are the names you know and drink like Jack Daniels whiskey, Finlandia vodka, and Herradura tequila. Beers and wines are only $2-4, and if you want food to absorb some of your alcohol consumption, order one of their 15 menu items prices at $5 ; I would recommend the spaghetti & meatballs for the comfort food aspect, but some people really like their pizza (not me).

This is a very laid back hole in the wall kind of place, so come with some friends (designate a driver) in some comfy clothes and hang out for awhile as if you're going to an old friend's den to drink and reminisce about how things were in the "good old days" of 1994.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Circus Meal Deals

If you are going to see the Cirque du Soleil show Kooza at the Santa Monica Pier, save your ticket stubs to get discounts or freebies at neighboring restaurants. Deals range from 15 % off your meal at restaurants ranging from Boa Steakhouse, Sushi Roku, or the new La Cachette Bistro, to Cirque menus at Jiraffe for $45, or Wilshire, where $45 gets you three courses and a free glass of champagne or wine. Locanda Del Lago gives you free valet parking all night plus a free dessert with entree purchase.

Since many people will be going with their kids, Buca di Beppo has one of the best deals, with family size portions and $10 off any food purchase of $20 or more. If all you want is a drink or dessert, bring your ticket stub to Pourtal Wine bar for a free glass of bubbly the day of your ticket, 20% off at Pinkberry, or a free dessert at Il Fornaio.

Just make sure you check out the details for the deal you want because some apply only to the day of the performance you have tickets for, some are good before or after the show, and some are good for anyone who is lucky enough to be in the area during a show day.

This gives "Happy Meal" a whole (better) meaning!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Great Chefs & Free Champagne Nov 8

Great Chefs of LA is holding it's annual event with the theme, Go Green Go Organic on November 8th at the CBS studio Center in Studio City from noon- 3:3o pm to benefit The National Kidney Foundation. There will be live and silent auctions, food competitions and challenges, gift bags, a DJ, and the chefs of honor are Neal Fraser (Grace) and Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger (Border Grill). Many websites/bloggers are giving away free tickets, so check out the Great Chefs Facebook page to see where you can enter to get some freebies, but remember that by paying your own way ($150 minimum), you get to support the charity.

If you want a complete freebie, head over to Petrossian between noon and 5 pm. Maybe I should say the tastes of Champagne and food are free, but like all good dealers, they want you to taste so that you will buy. There will be free Champagne, appetizers and chocolate samples, all to entice you to buy caviar and foie gras, smoked salmon, olive oils, and French chocolates. Being a good food junkie, I know the bait will work, so I'll bringing my purse....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

$100 for One

It's so fitting that I chose to celebrate my birthday at Bazaar (see my earlier post), and now the restaurant is celebrating it's one year birthday the entire month of November with an incredible menu of six courses and four glasses of wine for $100 per person. The courses are comprised of all the ones made famous by Celebrity Chef Jose Andres, like the liquefied mozzarella caprese, the Philly cheese steak, and the foie gras cotton candy. You can watch him make some of his unique dishes on this clip from the Craig Ferguson show.

If you haven't already been to this eclectic hip space, it may be time to explore the only restaurant to get tough food critic Irene Virbila's four star review in recent Los Angeles Times history. Keep in mind that only part of the immense lobby is the restaurant so you can explore the shopping section, the dessert section, get a tarot card reading, or get something from the raw bar.

If it is a crime to have two birthday parties, then I'll be happy to serve my sentence; all I ask is that I be allowed to finish my meal first.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Peace or Party?

Sometimes I need a quick getaway that does not require a flight. After the week of nonstop work I've had, the last thing I want to do is go through airport security and figure out which containers hold less than 3.4 fluid ounces of shampoo. So all that translates to driving far enough away to feel like I am out of town, but not so far that I need to spend so much time driving to my destination that I am exhausted just getting there in the first place.

The Miramonte Resort in Indian Wells is about a 2 hour drive and Perfect Escapes has a great bed and breakfast deal for only $159 a night. Aside from breakfast for two, you also get a confirmed 2pm late check-out, a $25 spa credit towards any 60 minute treatment at their spa, The Well, and a complimentary upgrade based on availability. This is a perfect peaceful retreat with fountains and mountains. Just ask for offer OID: 515 when you call them at (877) 589-7688.

The Ivy in San Diego at the Gaslamp District is also about 2 hours away by car, but a world away in atmosphere. If your mood is to be around shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, reserve the Gourmet Ivy package and get lively luxury for $189 a night for a two night minimum with code OID: 924. You also get a $50 daily credit for meals and drinks at the Quarter Kitchen, Envy Nightclub, or Ivy Rooftop bar (my fav). Other extras include a welcome glass of Champagne, 12 pm early check-in, 4pm late check-out, and complimentary upgrade based on availability.

Now the only question is do I want peace or to party?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cool Phone Tools

So many of my friends have iPhones and Blackberrys that sometimes I feel as if I am the only one without one or the other. I haven't leapt into the smartphone revolution partially because I haven't decided which one I want yet; some applications are made only for one or the other and are so useful that they have become part of the reason to buy a particular brand.

The Red Laser app for iPhone makes your phone a bar code scanner for merchandise so that you can compare prices at the physical store with online prices. It works for everything from groceries to televisions, so next time you see a sale on cookies or a computer in a brick and mortar store, scan the bar code and the app will search all online retailers for prices on the exact same item. It takes comparison shopping to a new level and you literally hold the key in your hand. The laser reading app also allows you to scan items to add to a shopping list, or to see reviews on the product, or scan a DVD in a store and beam the title to you TiVo, so you don't have to use it only to shop.

Some applications are great because they promote safety and are FREE, like the app for Blackberry. This converts text and email messages so that you can listen to them and respond without having to text back, even through Bluetooth! This helps eliminate the drivers who are constantly looking at their phones reading text messages and then trying to text back while driving (which is illegal in some states). They are working on a version that will work with the iPhone but for now it's only available for Blackberry and Android phones.

If MACs and PCs can now translate (most) applications written on one or the other, phones should be able to do the same thing one day. Now if we could get an application that would make people understand each other as well as machines do.....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brasserie Pascal $10-$20 Menus

After three weeks of the Dine LA prix fixes menus, I have become accustomed to eating several courses of delicious dishes for moderate prices. Brasserie Pascal must have been reading my mind because they began a special October 23rd that they are offering all day, everyday!

For as little as $10, you get your choice of any 1/2 Croque (sandwich), soup du jour, green salad, and potato chips.

For $15 you have a choice of two courses, either an appetizer and entree or entree and dessert. The appetizers include a selection of homemade pates, their vegetarian non dairy soup du jour, or a green salad with mushrooms & tomatoes in a house basil dressing. The entrees include Filet Mignon with peppercorn sauce mashed potatoes and vegetables, Alaskan Halibut with Parmesan Risotto, fingerling potatoes and vegetables, or spinach or chicken crepes with chived buerre blanc, vegetables and fingerling potatoes. The desserts give you a choice of a mousse au chocolat, creme caramel, or apple crumble.

For the $20 "splurge" menu, you get a 6 oz Creekstone Farm filet mignon with half a Florida lobster, rice pilaf, and asparagus with a tarragon sauce.

Off on my hunt for another great deal; let's see what I find tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

100th Bev Mo Celebration

Bev Mo is known for having a 1 cent sale where you can get a second bottle of wine for only 1 cent after you purchase one at the regular price. Everyone I know who loves wine & spirits loves this store and apparently they have plenty of company because Bev Mo just opened their 100th store yesterday and they are celebrating today.

They are having a "Mega-Tasting" event from 11am-5pm at their new Rolling Hills store (located near Trader Joe's). Some of the people pouring include the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Glenfiddich Scotch, Perrier-Jouet, and Grand Marnier; check the schedule for the hours your favorite brands will be pouring.

Tickets for the tasting are only $15 and proceeds will benefit the South Bay Boys & Girls Club; you get 10 tasting tickets for your donation, a goody bag, and there will be free hors d'oeuvres. If you want something more substantial, the local fire department will be serving up Jim Beam BBQ.

Go stock up on your spirits for the upcoming holiday fetes now and enjoy helping out a local charity at the same time; I'll see you there!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tengu Westwood

Rounding out my Dine LA meals this week is Tengu in Westwood Village. I've been to the Tengu in Santa Monica, but not this location and since it's been a while since I've eaten at Tengu, I wanted to see if it was still as good as I remember. For the $22 Dine LA lunch menu you get three courses with four choices each ranging from sushi and stir fried vegetables to NY Strip steak; a great deal considering three courses at full price would normally run about $40 here.

For my first course I chose the red snapper carpaccio, served with okra, yuzu dressing, and shichimi togarashi, which came out in long strips with skin intact. I found it a bit unwielding to maneuver into my mouth until I realized I could roll the slices before picking them up with my chopsticks. (Sorry no pic, the one I took was out of focus.) The fish was fresh, the sauce was perfectly seasoned, and I could have easily eaten several of these appetizers as my main course.

For my main course I asked for the pan seared papaya NY Strip steak, with a ginger, papaya-jalapeno glaze and steamed rice. I specifically requested a VERY RARE steak and when it came out it was medium well. I showed the waiter and reminded him what I had said about doneness (cold in the center); he agreed my meat was overdone and promptly replaced it with one cooked as I had ordered. I must note that hardly any restaurant in the US ever cooks my steak as rare as I request (the one exception so far has been Pacific Dining Car), so when my replacement came out I was very happy to get my preference with only one send back. I know it's hard to see the steak in the photo, but it was under the sauce, sliced, and a good sized perfectly seared NY Strip steak with a nicely balanced spicy papaya sauce that complimented the meat. Although the meat was sliced, it was a two bite slice and eating this with chopsticks might prove challenging for some people; I would recommend you order a knife and fork for this entree if you are not a chopstick expert.

For my finale the most interesting dessert seemed to be the Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, tempura-style angel food cake, crème de cassis whipped cream, and fresh berries.

The ingenious chef somehow wrapped the ball of ice cream in a layer of Angel food cake, dipped it in Tempura batter and fried it. The result was an interesting (not good, not bad) mix of cake, ice cream, crunchy batter, and cream. I'm not sure I would order this again, but it was definitely worth trying.

As Dine LA ends, I'm off to hunt for more good food with great prix fixe menus.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mandarin Taste

I met my friend Gloria for lunch in Anaheim because she is one of those unfortunates who is pretty much chained to her desk job in a Monday through Friday 9-5 Inferno. Her favorite lunch spot is Mandarin Taste in Anaheim, and even though I have met her there countless times, I got lost and ended up (literally) at the exit for Disneyland before realizing the newly repaved 5 Freeway has a hypnotic effect.

Mandarin Taste is well known in the area, with newspaper article reviews of the place (you know the paper stuff before blogs) framed on the wall of the entrance. As picky as I am about Chinese food, I would agree with the kudos for this Hunan-Szechuan style semi-formal restaurant. It is rare to see waiters in tuxedos at a Chinese restaurant, but you will see it here, along with trained service and a beautiful tropical fish aquarium on the wall by the booths.

We chose the crispy shrimp $13.99 which were lightly coated and fried before being tossed in a sweet sour sauce,

and the three flavor kung-pao $12.99 which had nicely spiced beef slices, juicy chicken, tender shrimp with peanuts, and scallions for our entrees.

Both entrees came with a very nice spicy hot and sour soup, white rice and a pot of black tea. All the choices here are typically basic American-Chinese food, but it is done well and in a very nice setting with a full bar (and yes, they serve drinkable wines here). Sometimes it's better to be safely familiar than to be unpleasantly shocked, so if you are going to Disneyland (on purpose), Mandarin Taste is a great place to stop by for better Chinese food than you'll find anywhere in the Magic Kingdom.