Wednesday, September 30, 2009

$29.99 Daily Lobsterfest

Considering the glut of Maine lobsters on the East Coast and the price drop to wholesalers, retail consumers and restaurant patrons haven't seen much of a price break (if any) out here on the West Coast. Prices are so low on the East coast that the price of hot dogs is actually MORE per pound than what the fishermen and women are getting for their catches. Sadly it is both ends of the spectrum which end up paying; many lobster companies are going out of business, and many consumers can no longer afford to "splurge" on a restaurant lobster meal. Some of that is finally changing as cities and restaurants take advantage of the lowest Maine lobster prices in many decades.

Several of the coastal cities, like Redondo Beach & San Pedro, already have an annual Lobsterfest, and a few restaurants, like Enterprise Fish Company, have a one pound $30 Maine Lobster dinner on Mondays, but starting tomorrow, Chimayo in Huntington Beach will have a daily Lobsterfest! For $29.99 you get a Maine lobster weighing in at 1.5 pounds, cooked any way you like it, whether your prefer yours steamed, grilled, roasted, or crispy.

If a whole lobster is too much much for you, or if the drive to Huntington Beach is too long for you, you can opt for the half lobster at the Beachcomber in Malibu for $14.95 on Tuesdays, which comes with a side of fries.

Now any day can be Lobster Day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thred Up

Thred Up is the site for you if you have ever exchanged clothes with someone else who wears your size and has your sense of style. I've exchanged with girlfriends when I've gotten tired of a dress I've worn only once, for a friend's pair of shoes that they got a great deal on, but are impossibly high for them to walk in for more than a block. It's an old fashioned swap system, just like paperback swap or Netflix.

Let's face the fact that we tend to wear only part of our closet, and this is especially true if you are a fashionista, a teenager, or changing careers. Would you like to get some new clothes to fit the latest version of you, but without having to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe? All you pay for with Thred Up are the envelopes to mail out your items. You can try out the system with three swaps for only $12.50!

You start by listing the items you want to make available in your own closet, then you pick out items you would like from another closet. Right now the system is only for shirts, but they are working on adding other items and even expanding the system for children's clothes. The Thred Up system finds matches for everyone; when someone finds something in your closet, you send it out to them; when something you want is found in someone else's closet, it is sent out to you! It goes without saying (I hope) that items should be clean, stain and odor free and in excellent condition. Their motto is the golden rule; send only what you would want to receive. If you love what you receive, you keep it, if you don't, put it back out into the system so it can find another home. This is one case of karma working almost instantly, if you receive something that belongs in a the trash, they will credit you a shirt and immediately reprimand the sender. They also have a points rating system for overall feedback and stylie points for promotional rewards.

Getting three shirts for only $12.50 in your size and your style is one of the best deals I have found; if you can find a better deal, let me know about it and I'll post it!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Great Labels

Last week My friend Cindy came into town for her birthday with her husband's credit card, so to get the most for her money, we headed over to the consignment resale stores, Great Labels and The Address.

We started at The Address where I found a brand new gorgeous black Armani gown for $300 that still had the tags on showing a retail price of $1,680; a timeless designer classic for $300 is a great value. Other items ranged from about $50 for a Trina Turk top to Manolos for $200. They have a sale section in the back that offers even more savings of up to 50% off shoes, purses, and clothes. Cindy bought me a beautiful Christiana purse for $35 that I would not buy for myself. It's nice surprise to get a present when it's someone else's birthday.

One block away, Great Labels has even more fabulous buys, especially in their back section where items are 75% off their already discounted prices. Cindy found all her birthday presents at Great Labels. Her husband's birthday present to her that day were a pair of Dolce Gabbana heels with a multicolor floral print and ribbon ties that she got for $200, and a pair of Chanel classic black pumps she got for $100. She got both pairs at an even greater discount by asking if they could do any better on the prices. Depending on the length of time they had been in the store, they can sometimes give you an even better price than what is marked on the tag. The store carries some excellent Chanel suits and business type clothes, like cashmere Donna Karan twin sets for $50, but I loved their evening clothes like the embroidered and sequined bustier I found for $500 that still had a retail tag of $1,850 attached to it.

It's a good thing Cindy asked if there was a spending limit on her birthday credit card only after we left the shop:)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

$5 Wine tasting

Head over to Wine Warehouse 12 noon-3pm for a $5 wine tasting of wines that cost up to $59.99 a bottle and you don't even need a reservation!

Why are you still reading? Go!

See you there:)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chocolates, Champagne & Concierge Service

Sometimes you just need to indulge your senses with pleasure to remind yourself that life is meant to be fun. Chocolate Box Cafe is a place where your taste buds will delight in decadent and delicate flavors from their unique buttermilk line (less fat, more vitamins), to pralines, truffles, marzipan, and their classic ganache with exotic flavors. If you are in the area you can stop in a for an Italian gelato, and if you're not, you can order online. Besides offering artisanal chocolates, they are also one of the only places I have ever seen who offer customized designs for special occasions, so you can give your favorite chocoholic a personalized gift (also a great idea for weddings & corporate events).

Few things signal fun as much as the popping of a Champagne cork, except perhaps the taste of fine bubbly! What better way to enjoy a "chore" than to have a glass of complimentary champagne while you are getting a mani-pedi? Go to Polish on Thursday between 4-9 pm and if you are over 21, you get your aromatherapy organic based work with a nice happy hour treat. If you want to be practical, and you need waxing (men are welcome here too), you could ease your pain with some liquid comfort after your session; think of the champagne as pain relief "medicine". Prices are very reasonable for the products they use (dead sea salts, organic soaks) ranging from $40-$75 for a mani-pedi combo.

I love all the concierges at the four and five star hotels I have worked with for the past decade; they are capable of amazing feats of service and have connections to get tables or tickets that mere mortals would never be able to procure. All that being said, not everyone is lucky enough to have personal relationships with people like these and may want some services that only a well connected concierge can provide. Blue Fish may be your personal answer if you are looking for something extraordinary and don't know how to get what you want. The how is usually not as important as who you know, and with Blue Fish they know who to call on your behalf to get you that supersonic military jet flight from Russia, white water rafting in Nepal, or that submersible dive in the Atlantic to see the Titanic. As they say on their website, please don't call them to walk your dog or if you want something conventional. Their club members must be referred by another client, but you can take advantage of some of their services by getting a Bluefish Card; which allows you preferred access to events and seating.

What is your pleasure?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Air Bed And Breakfast (or not)

I'll be going to visit a friend in New York for her birthday next month, but her place is so tiny it is barely big enough for her, much less me (and I'm not that big!). Even though I am originally from New York, I haven't been back in nearly 20 years, so I have been looking for somewhere to stay in one of the cities that is know for high rents and small spaces.

Although I would love to stay at the Grande Dame of New York Hotels, the Waldolf-Astoria, I don't want to spend $1000 for 2 nights, after all it is a trip for her birthday, not mine. So I started doing some research on alternatives and I found AirBnB, an online service which lists private or semi-private places to rent from owners. It's an alternative to the much bigger VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) site, but it has some amazing places and prices that make it worth browsing.

Air BnB has filters for whether you are willing to share the abode with the owner, or if you want a place to yourself, your price parameters (high/low), type of bed (some places have airbeds not real beds, hence the name of the site), WiFi, smoking, reviews, and whether or not you get an actual breakfast along with your bed. I found a room on Central Park West for $50 that shares a bathroom with the owner, or a 1 bedroom apartment all to yourself in the same neighborhood for $100 a night. Other popular areas have similar choices, like a room in a shared apartment in Chelsea for $98 with a doorman, laundry facilities, and unlimited telephone calls to US numbers, or get an entire 1 bedroom brownstone on the Upper West side next to Central Park for $200.

As much as I love getting room service, I would prefer getting an entire 1 bedroom brownstone to myself on the Upper West side priced at less than half the cost of the Waldorf and with more than twice the space. I love win-win options!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hotels Under $20

Think you can't afford a hotel room? Think again, because there are areas in the world where the dollar actually buys you more than you can dream of here in Los Angeles; you can literally get a room for the price of a couple of vente lattes.

Is it really possible to stay in a real hotel for under $20 a night? How about $9? The Shiva Guest House in Kathmandu, Nepal and the Venus Hotel in Luxor, Egypt are BOTH only $9 per night. And these are hotels that have 3.5-4 star ratings on Tripadvisor! Want something even LESS expensive? How about $6 per night at El Panchan in Palenque Mexico, near the ruins and beach. Ok, don't expect the Four Seasons for these prices, but they are clean, have hot water, and are safe (which are priceless details).

For something more upscale, how about the Hotel Lion D'or in Buenos Aires, Argentina for $14 a night? Taxes, room service, and cable are included in this rate! For another "luxury" hotel that includes WiFi, an in house restaurant, and a gym with a view of the river, the Mandalay Inn in Siem Reap, Cambodia is only $13 a night.

If you don't have a passport (why not?) and want to try to make some money while traveling, then Tod's Motor Inn in Las Vegas is your hostel/motel mecca. At $17 a night, it is one of the most "expensive" choices, but if you get lucky in one of the casinos, you could find it to be the best value of all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Four Girlfriends For Two Bunch

Sometimes girls just wanna get away, and if you have your own "Sex In The City" crew and the Hamptons are too far away, then head over to Two Bunch Palms. It's only a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles, but millions of miles away in ambiance.

You can get a 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite for $124 per person per night (2 night minimum, but why would you want any less time?). Because you will be staying in one of their premier accommodations, you will have a private backyard and jacuzzi, DVD player & popcorn, welcome champagne, fruit, cheese & crackers, 10% off all spa treatments during your stay and a $200 dining voucher for the Casino restaurant. It's VIP treatment all the way; just ask for the "Girlfriends Getaway" package.

Since this was once Al Capone's hideaway, why not make it yours?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Restaurant Bargains under $35

In these times of watching our pennies, it's nice to know there are some places which offer terrific bargains for dining out.

If you are scrounging around your couch for coins to pay for a meal, it's nice to know of a fast food alternative where the meal costs only $1, and all you have to do is eat it all on the premises and finish it (no doggie bags). Considering that Bamboodles has a daily special with beef, chicken, pork or fish that always includes noodles made that day, it may be worth the drive to San Gabriel. Freshly made food for a dollar means that you could feed a family of four for five bucks, including a tip!

If you're on the Westside and want some Nawlins mudbloods (crayfish), head over to West 4th/Jane 1432 4th St., #A, Santa Monica, (310) 395-6765. They have a pound of crayfish in a spicy sauce served with corn and potatoes for only $9.99. They have other food to go with the 100 beers they serve, like beer steamed mussels, but I would go for the more labor intensive critters.

For something a little lighter and a little bit more money, but with a lot of value, the omakase (chef's choice) at Wakasan 1929 Westwood Blvd., L.A., (310) 446-5241 includes TWELVE dishes for $35, an unheard of price for Japanese omakase. Please note that this is a tiny place, so be prepared for a wait during peak dining times.

Now let's see how much money we can find in those sofa cushions.....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day of Peace

My friends Darlene & John Zavalney have been working on Roots and Shoots Day of Peace since its' inception 7 years ago and this year they are bringing it to the Santa Monica Pier Sunday September 20th from 11am-4pm. This is one way we can all do something if we would like World Peace to be more than a perfunctory answer to a beauty pageant query about our wishes for the future.

Kids and pets are welcome at this free event; everyone is invited to enjoy the entertainment and the education on how to make this a better world both in sustainability and in coexistence between people, plants, and animals on this planet. Bring along non-perishable food for humans or pets, and you will be entered into a raffle to win a cruiser (the type of bike, not car). I also highly recommend bringing along a camera for the 75 Peace Dove parade (like the one pictured above being held up by Jane Goodall and John Zavalney).

With all the energy we spend on defense, why not spend some on peace?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Passing the Music On

Mr. Holland's Opus, released in 1995, focused on the power of music to transform the lives of music students (and their teacher). The story inspired the film's composer, Michael Kamen, so much that he created a real life organization that carries on the good ideas of the film in a concrete way.

Over 10,000 music students have benefited from an organization called Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation which provides musical instruments to students who can not afford their own. It's really a simple idea, it makes use of what you don't use anymore; think of it as musical recycling. When children (or adults) upgrade their instruments or simply stop playing, they can donate gently used band or orchestral instruments* to students who would appreciate and use them. If you don't have a used instrument to donate, you may also donate money.

So if you have a clarinet or violin sitting a closet, why not give it a second life as you give a child a chance to make some beautiful music?

*Please note that they cannot accept pianos, organs, accordions or guitars.

To all my Jewish readers
shana tova umetukah (a happy and sweet new year).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Outstanding in the Field

Eating outdoors has a whole new meaning when it is in the middle of a farm, winery, ranch, or sea cave, takes about 4 hours, and comes in five courses with wine pairings. Outstanding in the Field brings diners together (maximum of 150 guests per meal) in unique settings that bring the idea of farm to table to life. All this costs between $180-$220 per person and includes all gratuities. Upon arrival everyone is greeted with a glass of wine and a tour of the venue (usually a working farm or winery); discussions with the producers of the products used in the meal are encouraged through out the meal.

This kind of mobile kitchen and seating requires advance planning, so make your reservation (they have several dates still available in Los Angeles) if you want to experience truly unique dining under open skies. Please note that because of the nature of this communal meal, they do are not set up to accommodate vegans, people with food allergies, or small children; vegetarians are asked to inquire before reserving to see if the anticipated menu will fit their preferences. Non-drinkers and children get a modest ($10) discount.

Outstanding in the field proves that if you cook it, they will come.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oprah, Randy & Alice

I found the entire Last Lecture (about 1 hour long) and was even more inspired after watching the complete version and learning about Alice. I've been playing with Alice, the FREE educational software program, ever since I watched the video. The program has one version for Middle School, and another for High School to University level students, and can be used on PC and MAC, even in shared environments (like classrooms). It starts with a tutorial that is so user friendly I was able to make two mini animated movies in the first two lessons! If I had this in school when I was younger I would probably be working for Pixar today, instead I am learning how to program just for the fun of it, which is exactly the legacy that Randy Pausch wanted to leave the world.

Now go be like Tigger and have some fun today!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paris One Way or Another

I go through withdrawals when I don't get a dose of something French for longer than a week or two. Just as some people crave chocolate, I crave French things, from music to movies. The best remedy is of course a trip to Paris, and with British Airways' new Open Skies Business class you can fly from New York to Paris for $680 one way in 6' seats that recline 180 degrees (so you can lie flat) with the guarantee of a window or aisle seat. They even have a price guarantee if you find the same itinerary and class elsewhere.

If a flight is too much time or money, then head over to the Fonda in Hollywood for three days of French music at their Ooh La La event where tickets start at only $25; you can save even more by buying a three day package or combining your ticket purchase with a metrolink fare discount if you buy through ticketmaster. Some very famous performers will be coming here to perform, so if you can't get to Montmartre, let the artistes from Montmartre come to you!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Taste of Orange County Restaurants

I believe in the saying, "All true benefits are mutual". The organization Share Our Strength seems to share my philosophy because from September 20-26, all you need to do to help provide food for hungry children is go out to eat at a participating restaurant. From the celebrity hotspot Geisha House in Hollywood to the casual Border Grill in Santa Monica, choose from over 30 restaurants from Corona Del Mar to Pasadena for the Great American Dine-Out.

If you want to eat out this week and save some money, head down to Orange County for their Restaurant Week September 13-19. We had a Restaurant Week in Los Angeles earlier this year so we won't have another one until next year. If you want to take advantage of $10-20 lunches and $20-40 dinners for a three course prix fixe meal (not including beverages, tax or tips), it's time to head south for a meal. Some of my favorite places are participating, like 230 Forest Avenue in Laguna ($40 dinner) and Brasserie Pascal ($15 lunch $30 dinner) in Newport Beach. It's a great way to try out a place or revisit a favorite. To get even more benefits (points), make your reservations through Open Table and earn a dining coupon.

I love being rewarded for eating well!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Free Museums or $11,000 Flight

Have you been putting off going to museums because admission prices would put a dent in your budget? For two days, October 3 & 4th, twenty-two Los Angeles area museums are offering free entries! Every museum in the promotion, from the famous Getty and the California Science Center, to the lesser known Skirball Center and the Hammer at UCLA, is participating for at least one of the days (but you may still want to bring some cash for some exhibits that require entrance fees, and to pay for parking).

If you’ve got about $11,000 to spend, you and a friend can experience zero gravity flight, a 2 night stay at the Wynn in Las Vegas (with an upgrade to a Tower Suite room), and a spa treatment. The weightless flight is about 2 hours long aboard G FORCE ONE, ZERO-G’s specially modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft. Zero-G is the first and only company to offer FAA approved weightless commercial flights, so this could be considered the ultimate flight experience short of a rocket flight.

Experiences are the currency of life, spend yours wisely.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Away & At Home

The Marquis Los Cabos is one of those resorts that can boast about providing the double benefits of being both green and generous. Not only is this luxurious resort, with a 15,000 square foot holistic spa & fitness center, and three restaurants on site, offering discounts for a fourth or seventh night free, but it is conscious about energy use; they use candlelight instead of electricity at night! Their local economy consciousness extends to the uniforms being made in Mexico City, and since they opened in 2003, they have provided a free university (free includes all books as well as classes) to their employees. They give back 5% of their annual revenue to their employees in health and educational benefits. All this for about $240 a night.

If you would like to make your own green fuel with leftover waste at home, then check out the E-Fuel MicroFueler. All you do is feed it leftover beer, wine, or other waste like lawn clippings, dairy products, or rotten apples, and you can make your own ethanol for about $2 a gallon. The only by-product in the process is water. The fuel can also be used for a home generator, and with a $5,000 federal tax credit, Greenhouse estimates cost payback for a household is approximately 2 years.

As Kermit would say, "It's good to be green."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

See a Free Movie, Make a Movie, See Some Stars

Los Angeles has great weather almost all year around and even though drive in movie theaters are all but extinct here, there are a few venues which still offer free movies on summer nights. The Century City Westfield Mall movie series is now over, but the W Hotel in Westwood still has free movie screenings every Sunday until September 27, 2009. The venue is small, so make sure you reserve a seat before heading over there. I had a wonderful lunch at the Backyard restaurant there not too long ago, so if you want dinner and a movie, just go earlier to grab a bite before the movie starts.

After watching a movie, you may want to make your own, so if you get that itch, and it needs scratching, the Showbiz Store & Cafe should be your next stop. It's a WiFi cafe with software and production supplies for the television, film, and commercial industries. If you want to learn about how to produce the best audio visual experience, they offer seminars and workshops to teach you about everything from budgeting and payrolls, to supplies like clapperboards and screenwriting software.

If you want some inspiration for your film, tonight is Santa Monica Pier's 100th anniversary and there will be fireworks over the Pier at 8:50pm.

Are you ready for your close-up?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

All-Clad under $100

Even though I do not cook in a restaurant, I love using restaurant quality tools. Having lived with two professional chefs, I know that the tools of the trade can be very expensive, but they also last a lifetime. I own one piece of All-Clad cookware which I bought over 20 years ago and still use regularly today as one of my standard pans. I love the the heavy weight and the even heat distribution. I like having the ability to use it on both the stove top and the oven (just as professionals do), because versatility is important when investing in cookware.

Finding All-Clad pieces on sale is a rare, but for a limited time at Sur La Table, they have six pieces all under $100. If you can only afford one piece I would get the covered stainless steel pan for $89.95 (normally $180), if you are looking for a piece to add to your collection, the two burner nonstick grill pan would be my choice for $79.95 (normally $168). The least expensive piece is the round griddle pan for $49.95 (normally $105), but if you want to invest (and can still afford groceries afterwards), go for the full 9 piece set for $689.95.

Now with fabulous cookware, all you need is someone to cook; maybe you can entice a chef to come to you if you lay out some All-Clad pieces leading to your kitchen.

Friday, September 4, 2009

College Money

Now that it's time for school again, it's also time to figure out how much college will cost. Too bad there isn't a high school course on how to calculate and pay for higher education. Two of my friends are sending their kids off this year and looking at both their empty nests and their empty checking accounts, trying to figure out where to go from here. Good thing that there are several websites designed to help you navigate the financial and academic roads.

Collegeboard has tools, calculators, and resources for students, parents, and educators. They even have links to registering for the SATs on their home page. If you want to research colleges, they have information on more than 3800 and you can search by major, by location, or cost. I like how the site has everything from planning to go to college, to the logistics of applying, to the options for financial aid, all in one place.

For those who want to put away money for college (meaning you child is not enrolled this year), check out collegesavings, which has information on the 529 plans for every state.

For those who want some help with financial options Finaid is the place to go; they have everything from how to apply for scholarships, grants, how to get loans, how much to save, and even military aid options. There is a handy calculator to help you figure out actual costs with interest right on the homepage.

With the government handing out money to so many, why not get in line for a student loan? Studentloans has all the information on federal student aid and it has the application (free) on the website. These loans are usually based on income with lower interest than other loans, so apply for a federal loan first to avoid paying more later.

An education is always a wise investment; investing in yourself or your children can yield some amazing returns.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cliff House Inn Ventura

With the hot and humid weather in Los Angeles this week, the last thing I want to do over a long week-end is drive through 4.5 hours of hot desert to bake in 110 degree Las Vegas. One of my friends suggested Carmel by the Sea, and although I love the very quaint town and the beautiful beach, the six hour drive each way was daunting and too long for a quick getaway (there are flights to nearby Monterey, but it's too late to book any fare running less than $300 roundtrip).

So with a look at a map, I realized that Santa Barbara was the easiest and nicest choice for a cool break. It's a city small enough to navigate without too much traffic (compared to Los Angeles), and it's been about three years since I've been, so I would have places to explore and to revisit. It's only about 1.5 hours from Los Angeles, with plenty of walkable areas, great restaurants, and a long beautiful stretch of beach.

Although I love the Four Seasons Biltmore and they are offering a third night free special, I didn't want to spend $575 a night ($350 after the discount). I decided that having an ocean view was the most important amenity so I looked for an oceanfront hotel nearby. To my surprise I found the Cliff House Inn in Ventura still had rooms available for only $120-$200. The rooms are not as luxurious as the Four Seasons' rooms but they do offer floor to ceiling windows overlooking the surf, free wireless or wired internet service, complimentary continental breakfast, heated swimming pool and private beach access; some rooms even have fireplaces and jacuzzi bathtubs. The Cliff House is also known for the Shoals restaurant, serving seafood with an ocean view, so if you want to stay in one night instead of sampling the restaurants in town, there is a good option within the hotel.

Is it beach time yet?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PeaPod Car

It's called a Peapod, and I want one! At $12,500, it is not only cute and green, it is actually an affordable neighborhood vehicle to drive when you run your errands around town. It only cost 2 cents a mile to run and it has ZERO emissions! The seats have mesh backs like an office chair so they are light and comfrotable, conforming to your body as it moves when you drive. For the geeks, the amazing thing about this vehicle is that your iPod can be your ignition key and your navigation system! It's made from 95% recycled and recyclable materials, like bamboo, so it was made as cleanly as it runs! After a 6-8 hour charge it can go 30 miles, and the batteries are maintenance free and run for about three years!

They will be shipping the first model in October with two other models due out soon. Can't wait to be green in a Peapod!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jet Set Life

How would you like to arrive and live like a Las Vegas Whale at the Wynn? How about a private jet (no more LAX security) and three nights for $569?

You get access to a designated parking lot and private terminal, no security lines, convenient stress-free check-in handled by attentive staff, comfortable accommodations and champagne while you wait to board your flight, complimentary roundtrip air transportation in a private, 50-seat jet from Burbank to Las Vegas, personal ground transportation directly to and from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, three luxurious nights, Friday through Monday, at Wynn Las Vegas, convenient baggage handling directly to your room, and privileged access to exclusive nightclubs, Tryst and XS, just mention code WYNNLEI when you book.

Fly above the crowds and live like the jet setter you always wanted to be.