Friday, January 30, 2009

Il Pastaio

The twinkling lights around the patio and the warm glow coming from inside Il Pastaio beckon everyone to come inside this bustling little trattoria in the heart of Beverly Hills. I'm glad I heeded the call. It takes either patience to stand in line at the door (usually for half an hour or more), or planning (by reserving a few weeks in advance at Open Table) to secure a seat at one of the tiny tables, all literally 6 inches away from each other. This is definitely not the place to have a private conversation, unless you want it to be leaked out to the table next to you or a tabloid.

The hostess was fabulous, holding a table for half an hour during the busy lunchtime rush for a prior reservation (traffic in this area is very congested around lunchtime, so plan on lots of extra time to arrive and park*). The service was very efficient and friendly without being overbearing; whenever the waiter was not in sight the numerous busboys filled in instantly.

The food is the main attraction here since the owner is the famous Drago; the twist here is that this is his trattoria, so prices here are about half of the dishes in his signature restaurant, but made with the same high quality ingredients. From the carpaccio di tonno (tuna instead of beef) with whole caper berries, and the shrimp and papaya salad, to the squid ink risotto (yes it is supposed to be black) and the ravioli with spinach and ricotta. Everything was perfectly seasoned, presented, fresh, and expertly cooked. Since the tables were so close, I can say that the prosciutto and the shellfish plates also looked good (but I can not say for sure since I did not taste my neighbor's plates).

Il Pastaio is definitely worth the wait and the planning. When you go, try to save room for dessert and an espresso so you can linger awhile watching the street scene; it may not be Rome, but it's a nice facsimile.

*There is free 2 hour covered parking in the city lot on Canon one block northwest of the restaurant.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Crumbs Bakery

Just down the street from the famous Sprinkles on little Santa Monica Blvd., is the Crumbs Bake Shop, which also serves up scrumptious cupcakes. I actually prefer the Crumbs cakes because I find them more moist, tender, and they have that added bonus of reminding me of the cupcakes I ate as a child in New York (I did not know until I saw their website that the bakery actually originated in New York, which my taste buds told me before my eyes did).

For anyone nostalgic for Hostess cupcakes but wanting one made from scratch with love (instead of chemicals), go to Crumbs and get their version (complete with the white swiggle of frosting on top); if you prefer a Twinkie, they have a cupcake version of that famous treat also. For those who want a more adult cupcake (is there such a thing?), they also have caramel apple, red velvet, coconut, s'mores, and a cappuccino versions.

For early morning customers, they carry a wide array of strudels, croissants, scones, and muffins to go with your morning coffee; you will want to savor every last crumb.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

3 Free Business Stores

Since yesterday's post was all about setting up your own business, today's post is all about how to get PAID once you decide what you want to sell or service.

For anyone who has ever shopped on eBay or any other online merchant, you probably already know about Paypal. However there are some products or services that don't work well with paypal or are simply prohibitively expense on the paypal system. If you want to sell a download of a music lesson, how would you use paypal? For anyone who sells digital downloads or tangible products, E-junkie may be a better solution. E-Junkie does not charge for bandwidth or transactions, only for number of products listed (10 products costs $5), and they are flexible on what constitutes a product; a different size or color is a variant, not another product. They are also flexible on how you price your items; you can choose a fixed price or allow the buyer to set their own price. All you do is copy the html from their site to set up your payment.

For those who are more service oriented (or who simply want another less expensive way), try SHOPIT. This is a way to create your own ebay or yahoo store without having to pay for a listing fee. Their service is FREE and you can set up the widget on facebook or myspace (or use html) to sell to your network of friends. They allow you create your own store, post your widget anywhere, and collect your money through several well-known payment options like google checkout and paypal, but they also offer a FREE payment option through Revolution MoneyExchange.

Are you creative and want to sell your custom designs on products? Then Zazzle is the way to go. Instead of having to buy products and pay to put your designs on them, Zazzle will do it all for you for FREE. All you do is create a unique design and they will put your designs on anything from skateboards to t-shirts. They do all the printing and shipping once an order is received and you even decide what price and percentage you want for your talent. The more you spread the word and refer people to Zazzle, the more you can make since they maintain your online storefront FREE. You pay nothing upfront and once your designed products sell, they send you a check, so you risk nothing and have everything to gain.

Free shops, what a great way to start a business!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Free Business Advice

With so many companies in turmoil and people all wondering if they will have a job tomorrow, it is comforting to know that you can create your own business with free help from the government. For the following organizations, their goal is to serve small business owners looking to generate a successful enterprise, how refreshing!

Most people don't even know how to get started, so one way to begin is to take the free online business courses at the SBA. If you never took a course in business or got your MBA, this is the place to get your lessons in how to write a business plan, how to market your service or product, and how to deal with all the legal and competitive components of starting and running a business. Think of it as Business 101, but without the tuition costs of Harvard or the School of Hard Knocks.

Do you have a unique product? Do you need a patent or trademark? Find out what the laws are and register for one here, or learn how to protect one you have.

How would you like to get free business advice from a retired business person? Score is a non profit organization which does exactly that; they even have a free podcast with subjects that deal specifically with the economy, like how to plan during a slow economy.

And finally for some inspiration, check out Entrepreneur's "Great Minds in Business" which showcases what other innovators have done in the past to help you create your new future.

Monday, January 26, 2009


By now everyone owns a cell phone and could not imagine living without one (some of my friends no longer have a land line); but what if you don't have a cell phone that works overseas, and you are traveling outside the US?

Only AT&T and T-Mobile offer phones that work outside the US, but if you don't want to get one of the ones that include GSM (the standard for most other countries except the US and Japan), you can rent one or buy one from Mobal. The company has already gotten good reviews from Time, Inc, and Frommer's, so they are (hopefully) going to be around for awhile. The nice thing about renting or buying a cell phone for your international use is that you don't have to upgrade your phone or service contract on your US cell phone to include international calling.

If you buy a phone with Mobal, they allow you to keep an international number and the phone for life with no monthly fees; it is literally a pay as you go plan unlike some of the prepaid phone plans offered here which require minimum monthly fees. The charges are reasonable too; to buy a phone, you have a choice of phones ranging in price from $49-$179 and rates for calls are anywhere from $0.99 cents a minute within the foreign country to $3.95 calling outside the country, (this is the highest price I found for calls to the US from India) and $0.80 text messages. All this is very good value considering that I use AT&T, and my calls from France to the US cost me $1.95 a minute using my US cell phone. If you don't want to buy a phone, Mobal also offer rentals for places like Japan for only $7 a day (calling the US from Japan costs $1.79 a minute, but text messages are only $0.80 each). Mobal is a UK company so the SIM card they provide with your phone is UK based.

It's a great option to have a local cell phone when you are traveling abroad, and with Mobal you can leave your US cell phone at home.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Le Vallauris Palm Springs

I lived in Palm Springs for five years, so now when I go back to visit, I know where the good restaurants are and one I keep returning to is Le Vallauris. Just off the main street, in what was once a residence, the Vallauris is a classy understated venue which serves traditional French cuisine with all the classic touches like white tablecloths and candlelit tables. From the minute you enter, you will immediately feel pampered by the staff, and the co-owner Paul will likely stop by to say hello (he is Belgian), say hello back in French, "Bonsoir", and he will return a broad smile.

It is one of those legendary hangouts for celebrities past and present, with an impossibly romantic garden full of twinkling lights wrapped around a huge tree (in the middle of the garden dining area); the interior is low key with a nice fireplace and tables far enough apart to have private conversations. This is the place to propose marriage or at the very least, to ask for a second date. The garden makes a wonderful setting for a balmy brunch lunch, but I love going there for dinner, when the full menu showcases the talented chef. Try the classic whitefish served with a Dijon whole grain mustard mousseline, leaf spinach, shitake mushrooms with a thin julienne of fried leek, served with a side of steamed potatoes, or the Maine lobster salad, with baby curly endive, asparagus, julienne of carrot, served with a passion fruit, grape seed oil, mustard and champagne vinegar dressing.

Classics are still around for a reason; we only go back to places we love, Le Vallauris is one of mine.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Asian in Miami

I'll be heading to Miami Beach to visit some friends who moved there from Los Angeles; I can hardly wait for my trip with so many great restaurants in Miami to revisit and try (see my earlier post).

My mouth is already watering at the prospect of returning to Hiro's Yakko-San in North Miami Beach. When I asked them to take me to their favorite place, they drove to this out of the way industrial area with a hole in the wall restaurant tucked in a nondescript business park; I thought maybe my friends had lost their sense of taste or their minds (or both) until I tasted the food.

There is a reason that chefs come here after working at their own restaurants (always a great sign). Besides the fact that they are open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, they also serve authentic Japanese and Korean dishes that most non foodies or chefs would never touch, like cold kimchee tofu and grilled beef tongue steak. If you are not brave enough to try these exotic dishes, they also have familiar comfort food like kon tatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet), shrimp chili sauce, soba and udon noodle soups. My favorites are their fresh fish selections like the hamachi sashimi with jalapeno pepper, the sea bass miso, and their Manila clam sakemushi (steamed with sake).

Maybe on I'll order something to go for the ride back, I'm sure it will be 100 times better than any food the airline will serve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

O Bellagio Deal

I grew up in New York and I went to see Broadway shows as class field trips, so I am spoiled when it comes to seeing live theater; even the shows in Los Angeles disappoint me because most employ well known film actors, who are not necessarily proficient onstage in front of a live audience where retakes are not possible. I gave up on live shows in the West until I saw "O" at the Bellagio. I loved it so much that I did not want to see it again because I thought the show was perfect and I did not want to tempt fate. If heaven exists, "O" is how I would like heaven to be.

Because the hotels in Las Vegas are all struggling to fill rooms and seats, the Bellagio is offering a package of two tickets to "O" along with a room starting at $347; normally tickets alone are $100-$150 per seat, so this deal is like getting the room for buying two tickets to the show.

With their famous fountains and beautiful flower atrium, not to mention the glass blown flowers covering the lobby ceiling, the Bellagio may well be a facsimile of the garden of Eden, a heavenly place to see a fabulous show.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Day

Congratulations President Obama, may you lead us all to a better future.

Nearly everyone in the world will be watching the Presidential inauguration today; if you are on Facebook (or even if you are not) CNN has linked with them to provide live video streaming of the event which allows Facebook users to comment as it plays. Twitter is doing something similar with Current TV, and major networks are all featuring live streams online along with their broadcasts.

In celebration of our new President, America's Song is available for a free download on Oprah's site until 2pm (PST) today.

Let us all start a new term of peace and prosperity.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hitch a Ride

There are several options when you need to either get to or get home from the airport, but none of them are perfect.

Getting a ride to the airport from family or friends is not always possible; taking a shuttle which stops at 5 other locations before dropping you off is annoying and time consuming; self parking your own car can be worrysome or expensive depending on where you decide to park (I was once at a self park at LAX and they returned the WRONG car to the man ahead of me!); taking a limo is a great way to go but it can be expensive and let's face it, a limo for one takes up a large carbon footprint.

What is a better alternative? You can share a ride and self park at a good facility like 105 Airport Park which offers valet and luggage service. Or try Hitchsters; it's a free car and ride sharing service for the Manhattan and San Francisco airports that matches you up based on flight times. You can even choose a gender preference or requirement (i.e. you can specify that the match MUST be a specific gender or no match). Their philosophy is that every time you take a cab you are sharing it with a stranger anyway (the cab driver), so why not share it with two strangers and save some money by splitting the cab fare?

They are a new concept and company, so the more they get people to use their service, the more they will expand to other cities; give them a try next time you are in NY or SF so that they can expand to LA and a city near you.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Dr. Hogly Wogly's Texas BBQ cooks their meats over a backyard wood burning fire. They were founded in 1969, so after numerous people told me about them, I finally went to taste for myself.

With a nice outdoor patio and friendly waitstaff (probably all loyal employees since 1969), my first impression was of an informal warm neighborhood BBQ joint. Prices are very reasonable, especially considering the portion sizes, with dinners around $20, including two sides and nice sweet bread. The picture above is of ONE dinner of beef and pork ribs. Sides choices include very sweet semi pureed brown sugar beans, macaroni salad, cole slaw, and potato salad.

Overall I prefer the ribs at Mr. Cecil's (see earlier post) which have a falling off the bone tenderness and nice smoky flavor, but the beef brisket at Dr. Hogly Wogly's was superb; their secret BBQ sauce marinade makes this the best dish on the menu, and I would highly recommend getting at least a sandwich here to taste the tender and tasty brisket. None of the sides were to my liking, but everyone who likes lots of mayonnaise in their potato salad and sweet beans, would love them.

It's always good to try out a famous landmark and form your own opinion; I'm glad I tried Dr. Hogly Wogly's because I found the best BBQ beef brisket in Los Angeles.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

MGM Dining & Entertainment Discount

It may be time to head out to the MGM in Las Vegas this month (or next month). They have a special promotion offering all Mastercard users a 30% discount on (nearly) ALL room charges except the charge for the room itself. With rates starting at $70 a night, if you charge your meals and tickets to a show, your discount will have paid for your room!

I called to verify what could and could not be discounted; the discount may be applied to dining, entertainment, retail, and spa, but is not valid at Farmer’s Market fast food outlets, non MGM Grand owned retailers, The Watch Boutique, and at the MGM Grand Arena, and a 20% service fee will be applied to all spa services and upgrades.

If you do not have a Mastercard, then use code INB249 to get the $55 a night rate: either way, if you are one of those wise and lucky few who have cash and credit right now, you might want to try your luck at the MGM and continue your winning streak.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Crab at A & W Dim Sum

Yes, you read the title of today's post correctly. I am writing about a place named A&W (no, it is not the fast food chain) which serves Dim Sum (until 3pm every day). Aside from the fact that they are the only place to get really good Dim Sum in the San Fernando Valley (three locations), they also serve very good Chinese food, including BBQ meat dishes, fresh live seafood, and they have a gelato, espresso, and boba tea bar adjacent to the main dining area of the recently remodeled Granada Hills location.

Their menu has dishes I would not expect to find in the heart of the Valley, including authentic Chinese choices of Peking Duck, roasted squab, and fried rice with salted fish and chicken. And yes, the taste is actually pretty good compared to the restaurants in Monterey Park and Downtown LA's Chinatown. The most wonderful part of the entire meal was the service with a smile and a "no problem" attitude, a rare find in the Chinese restaurants in other parts of town.

Portions are very generous, so if there are only two of you, try to find one dinner dish to share or you will end up with food to take home for another meal, which is not a bad idea. A better idea is to go with friends so you can taste several dishes, and if your total dining bill (in house) is $100 or more, they will give you a FREE order of fresh crab!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Everyone, or almost everyone, in Los Angeles has either been to or heard of the "Riot Hyatt" (the nickname stuck after some well-known musicians chose this hotel as their home away from home when they played at the clubs on Sunset, and systematically trashed the rooms, lobby and environs after every gig) on Sunset Blvd.

That was then, this is now, and now The Hyatt has transformed into a new concept hotel named the Andaz (it is still part of the Hyatt chain, so you can still accumulate points for your stay here). The most striking thing about this new hotel is the lack of a front desk or concierge; when you walk in, you are greeted by a personal host who greets you and arranges everything from your check-in to your reservation at RH, the in house restaurant with a communal dining table and open kitchen. After you are settled into your room, any services you require are a phone call away, whether you want room service or a manicure.

Think of a night at the Andaz with the views and the service, as a taste of life in the Hollywood Hills, but without the threat of hillside fires or a multi-million dollar mortgage. Instead, you get a sleek facade, rooms that feature a 42” flat screen television, along with a well appointed ergonomic work space, robes, black out curtains, iHome stereos, complimentary wireless internet, and complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar refreshments. Rates start at about $300 a night, but you can sign up for their newsletter to get reduced rates, and even an AAA card will get you a discount.

The nighttime view of the sparkling city below is enough to make you consider living life here among the stars.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Free Orman Advice

After a financially tumultuous 2008, we are all looking forward to a smoother (and less nerve racking) 2009. But since most of us are not financial experts, and even some of our financial experts lost their nerve and money last year, where do we go for some solace and a solution?

Suze Orman is giving everyone an action plan for 2009, and best of all she is giving it away FREE until January 15, 2009. Simply go to Oprah's website for a free download of her book, Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan. Her simple outline explains both how we got here and where to go from here.

I downloaded the book last week and read it before posting this, so I can honestly say that no matter how savvy you are, this book has something in it for everyone. For those who understand what happened and what to do next with their money, this is a small reminder to keep you on track on all fronts; for those who are lost, confused, and scared, this book is the calm voice of reason reminding us to focus on our goals, and gives specific action steps to help reach those goals.

Life is change, and knowing that you can affect the direction of your finances no matter what changes occur, is both powerful and comforting. Thanks Suze.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Terminal 5 at JFK

Anyone flying to New York's JFK airport will find a new Terminal 5 (the Jet Blue terminal) where you may actually WANT to linger for awhile.

The difference here is the quality and variety of the foods (from the chefs who created Balthazar, Tia Pol, and Lupa Osteria) with 22 dining, bar and lounge offerings that will bring pleasure to even the most jaded traveler. For the international crowd, there are choices from jalapeno tuna sushi and Kobe beef at Deep Blue, to Moules Frites at La Vie; for those seeking something more familiar, how about beef ravioli with Gorgonzola fondue and parsley puree at AeroNouva, or fresh guacamole prepared at your table at Revolucion?

Even if you just want a quick bite, the futuristic terminal has Automat stands throughout the terminal so you can touch screen your order and have it delivered to your gate as you surf on free WiFi; it all makes you want to get to the airport early, or hope for a flight delay.

Please Note: To ensure that my posts continue to deliver all my readers the best I have to offer, I will be posting only Monday through Friday this year, so Terminal 5 is actually a double entendre for this post, as I will end my posting week with 5 posts per week.

I wish you all a delightful week-end; come back and read my blog on Monday:)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Shop It To Me

My friend Wendy invited me to look over the shopping site Shop It To Me. After signing up (it's free) and looking through their emailed deals, I am happy to pass the info on to all of you that this is indeed worthy of the 3 minutes it takes to join. Discounts range from about 20%-70% off designer brands ranging from Armani to Nicole Miller, and name brands like Guess and Levi's.

My favorite feature of the site is the customization to your size and taste (this is also the part that takes the three minutes in the sign up process). You choose your size ranges, your articles of clothing, and your preferred brands; once you fill out your preferences, the sale items are categorized for you and emails with the deals will be sent out accordingly. You can even customize the days of the week you wish to receive notifications. It's like having a personal sales shopper bringing you samples to look at every week, all as a free service.

Shopping means never having to buy, but you if you find a deal too good to resist, you may have to buy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Scarleteen Education for Teenagers

If you or your teenager needs to get information about anything sexual, where do you go? If you do a search online, you will probably end up at a porn site which wants to sell you a membership or a product.

Heather Corinna founded Scarleteen, and with the help of a few volunteers, is now serving about 25,000 young teens and adults worldwide in their quest for straightforward information about their bodies, their relationships, and their sexuality. Scarleteen and its' content has been lauded by such organizations as UNICEF, Planned Parenthood, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, Family Health International, the International Association for Adolescent Health, and the Boston Women's Health Collective.

The truly remarkable fact about Scarleteen is that they don't have a big organization behind them or any public funding, nor have they ever run any advertising anywhere, although they do have a place on their site where they will accept funding from the public to continue their work if you would like to contribute.

If you got your sexual education through your friends, you know how distorted their information can be (like the old game of telephone, the message is never the same at the end as it was in the beginning). If you got your lessons from adults who did not shame or chastise you for asking, you were very lucky; please pass on your luck to others by using Scarleteen or donating to it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Walk the Marina

Does having something beautiful, fun, easy, good for you, and free to do, sound like an impossible combination? A walk around the Marina is the answer to all of the above, and it's got the added advantage of being local.

Marina Del Rey is home to multi-million dollar homes and boats, but you don't have to sail or live there to enjoy the scenery. The Visitors Bureau has walking tour maps which you can download, or you can stop by their office and they will give you one. Choices include a waterfront walk, a wetlands walk, a beachfront walk, or a Marina peninsula walk with views of the main channel.

So many people are living in snow and cold weather right now (New York's forecast temperature today is 34 degrees with snow), so go out and enjoy living in the mild winter of Southern California by taking a walk and basking in the warm (65 degrees forecast for today) sun!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Santa Monica Stores Closing

Borders on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade is closing this Saturday, January 10, 2009 and is selling everything in the store at 40-70% off. I must say that I am not surprised by the closing since I always preferred the bigger (and more popular) Barnes and Noble, which is still open just a few blocks away. The popular Promenade will have a great bookstore and cafe, just not two of them. The Barnes and Noble cafe and store has restrooms, unlike Borders, which closed the ones they had, (even though they served coffee, a diuretic). Maybe one of the reasons they closed is that no one wanted to buy coffee or books where there are no toilets....

Macy's at Santa Monica Place (located at the beginning of the Promenade) is also closing; it was the only store still open during the construction of the new mall, but with no other stores open in the mall and horrendous parking, no one ventured to shop at this store with two Macy's stores nearby. If you are a Macy's card customer, you will get special discount passes to shop at the other Macy's because they want you to continue to shop with them even if it's not at the same location.

With so many stores overextended both in their credit lines and expansions, it is inevitable that excess inventory and storefronts be eliminated. It is healthy for both companies and people to stay balanced in their budgets, even though at present it is painful to cut back on jobs. Hopefully the jobs created by the new administration will replenish both the economy and the incomes of those hurt most; hopefully the new stores opening in the new mall will replace the jobs lost with better ones.

Support the stores and locations you love if you want them to stay around.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I've written about how wonderful it is to watch free TV and movies on Hulu in a previous post, but there are some shows that are not available on that site; Fancast fills in many of the gaps with programs like Burn Notice, Lipstick Jungle, Mad Men, and Everyday Italian, all available for free after you sign up (all they want is your email address).

Every episode is free with limited commercials, so it's better than watching on commercial television. Without the need for a subscription service like TiVo or your local cable company, this is a great way to either catch up on a missed episode, or to watch an old favorite. I found Fancast as I was looking for my favorite (now canceled) show, The Gilmore Girls; the offering here is more complete and has less commercial interruptions than the "official" version on the show's website. Fancast allows you to customize your selection by filling out a short preference list and you can actually subscribe to your favorite shows so that you know when a new episode airs.

I love it when I find better choices and quality than at the name brand "retail" location!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

3 for 2 Bellagio

A good way to start of the New Year is by traveling at a discount to a quality hotel. Although I love the Wynn in Las Vegas, the Bellagio, with its' world famous fountains is a great alternative.

For the month of January 2009, the Bellagio is offering a free third night when you book two consecutive nights. The deluxe rooms start at $169 and you can make your reservation online or by phone using code 3N169FN.

Combine that deal with the Southwest discount fares this winter starting at $49, and it makes for a very affordable getaway trip. You can use the savings on your trip to play a few games, just make sure you quit if you lose!

Friday, January 2, 2009


It's been a cold gray day in L.A. and going outside only seems worth it if there is a reward for braving the weather.

The menu is a hodgepodge of several Asian cuisines, but Ramenya offers good, steaming, and flavorful bowls of ramen soup in your choice of the traditional chasu (pork) or tofu noodle. For the more adventurous, try the spicy kimchee or garlic ramen. If you don't want hot noodle soup, you can opt for shrimp fried rice or a fried broccoli rice combo. Ramenya is also one of the few Asian eateries open all day without interruption, so even with it's location a few blocks from Sawtelle, there is usually a line outside the door even at 3 in the afternoon. If you just want to stop in for an afternoon snack after work, they also serve side dishes of gyoza and pork shumai to keep you going until dinner.

Warming up with a hearty bowl of soup is one way to bring some color back to your cheeks on a gray day.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Bonne Annee!

Create a happy year by acting kindly to everyone everyday (including yourself).