Saturday, May 31, 2008

Luggage and wallets

When you are traveling, the last thing on your mind (or the first) is whether or not your luggage will stand up to the trip. If you buy Briggs and Riley luggage, you can forget about worrying; all Briggs and Riley luggage is guaranteed for a lifetime, simply ship it back or bring it in to a store to have them repair or replace it. Some of their smaller pieces have an extra sleeve that you can loop over a rolling luggage handle (or convert into an extra pocket if you choose to zip it up). I love the many extra pockets inside and out that make it easy to organize your belongings. These are pieces you will not need to replace; if anything, you will want to buy more pieces to suit the length and type of your trips. For longer trips, I love the ultralight wheeled duffel with its' wide opening and dirt resistant gray ballistic fabric; for an overnight trip, everything fits into their large tote (including two pairs of shoes!). Even though I have four pieces, I still want more (can luggage be addictive?). They offer very neutral colors, so sorry, no purple or orange choices, but you can add a colorful luggage tag or simply get a color other than black to distinguish your pieces from the others in baggage claim; I bought the dark gray and I have never seen another gray Briggs and Riley piece on the baggage carousel.

Of course when you travel, you will need money, so what better way to carry it than in a Lodis wallet? These fine leather wallets allow you to carry all sizes of currency and plenty of it (important if you are traveling outside of the credit card carrying U.S.) in beautiful style. Some of the larger wallets are big enough and beautiful enough to be a clutch. The simple solid soft leather with a one touch open frame is understated elegance, while some of their wilder prints allow you to express the rock star within you. Can't decide who you want to be? They also carry wallets with flowers and patterns in colors ranging from hot fuschia to warm brown. And yes, they have wallets for men, as well as briefcases and passport holders, so you can share the same brand with a man without compromising on your taste.

With a new wallet and new luggage, the only question to answer now is, where do you want to go?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Being Korean

Spending a day in another culture is a good way to sample the lifestyle without needing a passport or committing to a trip abroad. Los Angeles offers many cultural choices, and one way to spend a day in Korea is to go to the Olympic Spa in Koreatown. They offer spa packages that rival the best of the chain spas at less than half the cost. A word of warning for those who are self-conscious about being nude, do not come here if you are not comfortable being naked or seeing naked bodies within 2 feet of you. If you are only comfortable in the prudish setting of an American spa, then do NOT try this. This is women only spa, so you are naked only with other women (the therapists wear a bikini type combo as they work on you). If you are able to open your mind and relax your body enough to try a taste of an Asian spa, you will reap the benefits of both the unique offerings and prices you will not find elsewhere in Los Angeles. The Olympic Spa offers an oxygen room, a mugwort hot tub, and their famous Pure Bliss package, which offers a scrub, massage, facial and mask, for about the price of just a massage at any other full service spa. For those who doubt the quality of this experience, the spa uses Bumble and Bumble, so they are not skimping on products. It is a very different atmosphere than you would find at an American spa, but that is the point here as you immerse yourself in the hot and cold spas, steam rooms, and spa packages that make this a haven for Koreans and those who are willing to travel to another culture for their spa experience. The people who work here are all very nice to foreigners (non-Koreans), so be nice to them and tip generously because at these prices, they work very hard for very little. There is a resting area where you can take a nap after your treatments, and they even serve food in a small cafeteria on the premises (Korean food of course).

For better Korean food, leave the spa after your service and try Cham Sot Gul for Korean BBQ, just a few blocks away, in a setting that befits the Flintstones, with boulders set into the walls of the restaurant. They have delicious Galbi (marinated short ribs) and Bugolgi (sliced beef) for meat lovers, and squid or shrimp for those who want lighter meals. If you can't decide, pick one of their combos. Everything comes with an umpteen number of side dishes (including spicy kim chee, mild bean sprouts, steamed egg, etc.), along with a nice salad. The idea is to eat the BBQ meat wrapped in the rice wrappers that come as a side, or with the lettuce. Rice is considered by Koreans to be the thing you eat if you have nothing else, so if you want rice, you must order it separately. This is the typical grill it yourself Korean BBQ restaurant, with a surprising touch of kindness (those who have gone to other Korean places will appreciate this even more than the food). They are nice to Caucasians (and non-Korean Asians), they have a menu in English (with pictures), and the waitresses will even help you grill your food and change your grill when it gets too charred.

To be Korean for a day while enjoying all the perks, but without the jetlag and repressive regime, just go to Koreatown.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cuba or Argentina?

There are so many Versailles restaurant locations in Los Angeles now that you can try Cuban food even if you live in the suburbs. They are famous for their crispy garlic chicken and roast pork, but this is also one of the few places to find oxtails and a decent paella in Los Angeles. Where else can you get cuban black beans as a side and a toothachingly sweet dessert of Cascos De Guayaba Con Queso Crema (guava shells with cream cheese)? The food comes out so quickly, you may wonder if they are psychic, but service is always friendly, and efficient. With prices for dinner for two under $30, this is the place for an inexpensive foray into Cuba without paying for airfare.

Empanada's Place offers food from Argentina, namely empanada's. For those who have never had an empanada, think of a South American version of an Italian calzone or a Russian piroshki. It's basically a folded turnover filled with various meat or vegetable fillings. My favorites are the chicken and the spinach, which also come in cocktail sizes so you can order them to go and serve them at your next party (good at room temperature, but better heated in your oven for a few minutes). They also offer a few other choices, like sandwiches and tamales, but this place is called empanada's place for a reason, so listen to reason and order at least one empanada.

Diversify and try Cuban or Argentinian food, even if you must go salsa dancing afterwards to work off what you just ate, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Three for the second in Paris

In the movie "Something's Got to Give" with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, they end up meeting at a restaurant in Paris. The restaurant really exists in Paris (not on a movie lot), and is called the Grand Colbert. The restaurant is also an historical monument, and it is a great place to eat fabulous French food. If you are craving any of the French classics whether a huge fruits de mer platter of seafood, a steak tartare, or foie gras, then come here for dinner and finish with profiteroles (ice cream puffs) or a tarte tatin (apple tart) for dessert. You can stop in just for a hot chocolate (done the old-fashioned, non-machined, non-packaged way) as a respite from strolling the area's shops, or better yet have lunch here with the stockbrokers. La Bourse, the Parisian stock exchange is only two blocks away, so this is not a touristy area, but a real working (and local eating) area, like Wall Street in New York. This restaurant is located in the second arrondissement with covered alleyways, after which the classiest of today's indoor malls were modeled. Come at night and you will have the romantic French restaurant of the movies, with food to match the ambiance.

Alain Ducasse also has his restaurant here in the 2nd called Aux Lyonnais. It serves the classic French frog's legs, chicken, beef and pork from the Lyon region (known in France for being one of the best places to eat in a country where eating is the national obsession). The food here is heavier, the peasant style of the farmer's of France. So if you like meat and potatoes, this is the French equivalent of an Midwestern style country restaurant. You will leave smiling and feeling very full.

My favorite restaurant in this area is on the Bistrot Vivienne, with it's Art Deco interior and excellent menu of all the typically French dishes from grilled Espadon (fish) to a filet de boeuf bearnaise, you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. The prices are in line with a good restaurant, but not extravagant. Lunch here is business casual, but come for dinner, dress up and spend a few hours eating, drinking, and being merrily French.

Three choices for the second arrondissement in Paris. What would I choose? I would choose to stay long enough to eat at all three:)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grace Michael's

Grace restaurant lives up to it's name; they offer gracious service in beautiful surroundings, with the most delicious inventive food I have eaten in Los Angeles. All that being said, they are also celebrating their fifth year in business and offering a special menu of five courses for $55 until the end of this year. I went with my friend Cindy and made her taste things (which she said she doesn't like) off my plate that she would never have ordered, but without exception, she said, "Oh that's good, I never liked that before." From the simply fried olives, to the exotic boar with spaetzle, there is nothing not to like here, even if the food may seem unusual; an unusual dish is sometimes synonymous with an undiscovered delight. People who know about Grace, know to go for the homemade donuts on Wednesday nights, so if you only want to try this place, go for dessert on a Wednesday.

Michael's in Santa Monica is the Godfather of Californian cuisine and still stands out as a place for perfection in the culinary arts, set in an idyllic garden patio. Nothing beats their braised short ribs, or their 5 or 7 course tasting menus which come with wine pairings. If you like food with tradition and history, but without stuffiness, this is the place. Reservations are always necessary if you want to sit on the patio, which has awnings and heat lamps to protect you from any rain or cold, a rare occurrence in Southern California. I would rather go to another restaurant than sit inside here, so be sure to call ahead to reserve a table on the patio. If you are impressed by awards, they received a James Beard Award for Excellence in 2008. If you are impressed by the humility of simplicity and attentive service, then Michael's will win your accolades.

Whether you choose Grace or Michael's, (or choose both by having lunch at Michael's, then going to Grace for dinner) you are making a wise choice for great food. Bon Appetit!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spiritual study

A spiritual education is usually acquired through life experiences, personal challenges, travel, and / or great teachers. For those who want a more structured and disciplined course of study, there is the University of Santa Monica, which has a two year Master's program in Spiritual Psychology. This university embodies the principals of a soul-centered education. It is school the way you always wished it would be, like having to read books that you actually WANT to read, and papers that you look forward to writing. But the best part is going to class and being happy and excited about attending. It requires a commitment of one week-end a month (Friday nights are included in the week-end) and a week-long practicum at the end of each year. Having hundreds of people encouraging you and supporting you in attaining your goals as you do the same for them, spreads a sense of community that goes far beyond the school. Some spiritual teachers and writers, like Iyanla Van Zant (and moi), have graduated from this program, so there is something here for those who have traveled a way along the spiritual path already, as well as for those just beginning their journey.

If a two year course is too much of a commitment, then try a week-end course at Insight Seminars. Their course "The Awakening Heart" was the most profound education I have ever had in a seminar. Whereas the University of Santa Monica program is more focused on your communication and relationship to others, Insight (as the name suggests) is focused on your relationship with yourself. As corny as it seems, I really did gain insight into how I behave and think. It was also fun, and not many things that teach such profound lessons come packaged with so much fun. They also offer courses for teens and businesses, so you can share what you learn with your children and co-workers.

You may attend both programs concurrently, or just one. It's like choosing a cardio workout and/or a strength training workout; either one is good exercise, or you can alternate between both. These programs are not centered around or opposed to any religion, so people of all religions attend. Just as you may take vitamins with your antibiotics, you can have your religion and still grow spiritually.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sex in the City

Love's pleasures with consenting adults can be spiced up with some lingerie, books, videos, and toys. If you are brave enough to go to a store (with discreet hidden parking in the back), then head to The Pleasure Chest ; they even has a blog that will let you in on the latest trends, tips and tidbits to enhance your pleasure quotient. It is the biggest and most varied pleasure store in the Los Angeles area with two floors of merchandise ranging from the mild and safe (flavored condoms) to the wild (pony gear for humans). They carry very original facsimiles of uniforms, for all those policemen fantasies (complete with handcuffs), as well as outfits to transform you into every other member of the Village people. Although the store is near West Hollywood, they do carry a large selection of things for women, including the famous rabbit (the best one is made in Japan, not China) as featured in an episode of "Sex in the City". For those who can't (or don't want to) go to the store, you can go to their website and order online.

If you prefer to order online, my favorite online store is Good Vibrations which has been around for 30 years, and is women-oriented and operated. They have the largest selection of female directed videos, alternative lifestyle publications, and feminist books I have found anywhere.

If a bricks and mortar store seems to personal, or online seems too impersonal, there is an alternative called the Love Boutique party. These are parties held in a private location (usually a home) with women who host and perform a "show and tell" of various products from the store (which has two locations in the Los Angeles area). Think of it as a Tupperware party with different kinds of products. It's a good way to see and touch the merchandise while having a friendly resource to answer any questions.

Whatever your preferred flavor, you can awaken your palate for pleasure by adding just a taste of something exotic (chocolate truffle lube perhaps?) to sex in your city.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Foreign Air

With so many of the airlines going bankrupt, merging, and losing any kind of competitive pricing or service features, traveling by air can be a gamble, or worse yet, a nightmare. But there are airlines which offer you a winning solution if you are willing to try another kind of airline.

Sometimes flying with a foreign airline is the best way to go somewhere, even for flights within the U.S.; Virgin America started flights within the U.S. and offers a coach class that rivals most business class seats for $500 round-trip, and first class round-trip tickets for under $1500 including the applicable taxes and fees. The infamous Richard Branson has branched out from his Virgin Atlantic venture to offer flights between East and West Coast cities while offering first class quality at prices below some coach fares. The seats all have entertainment screens so you choose what entertains you instead of the airline selecting your movie for the flight. Nice lighting touches, connectivity at your seat for your electronics, and a sense of humor (one of his planes is named after Stephen Colbert), make this airline a top choice for those who want modern conveniences and value for their flight dollars.

Want to go somewhere exotic on your flight? How about Tahiti? I have traveled to Tahiti and her islands about seven times (so far) and the last three times I have traveled with the Tahitian airline Air Tahiti Nui. It's wonderful to be greeted with a tiare flower (frangipani) and have the island spirit embodied in the flight staff as they welcome you aboard. Remember that Tahiti is actually east of Hawaii, just further south of the equator, so if you are willing to fly to Hawaii, why not take your passport and go where there are as many visitors in a YEAR as there are in Hawai in a DAY. Who says it's too expensive? Air Tahiti Nui has packages with air and hotel for $846. This airline also has the individual seat screens and though a bit cramped in coach, they still offer more leg room than Delta in the same class. Air Tahiti Nui also offers flight to Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and a world pass, so there really is no limit to how far you can go once you get a breath of foreign air (travel).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Northern Italian in Southern California

Locanda del Lago is hidden in plain sight on Third Street Promenade, not exactly where you would expect to find a great Northern Italian restaurant. There is a sidewalk patio for nice days and a homey interior for any day you want appetizers like a plate of Bresaola, coppa, and proscuitto, followed by a freshly grilled whole striped bass, or maybe home made spinach talgliolini with portobello mushrooms and blue water prawns. They don't pander to the tourists with bland or bottled flavors, instead they cook as if they are in the Lake district of Northern Italy and bring the flavors of the lake to the Santa Monica shoreline.

Il Moro is located behind a business building that hides a nice garden patio with a stream and fountain shielding busy Olympic Street traffic from diners' ears. It is a romantic spot at night with tiny lights in the bushes, but even in the daytime, it is a secret getaway spot hidden behind an office complex at a busy intersection. Along with the standard Italian meat, fish and pasta dishes, Il Moro has Roman dishes on their menu which include risotto with wild boar sausage and home made corn pasta with wild hare. A nice Italian touch is their gastro bar which stays open all day for coffee and drinks, while offering bites from their menu.

Both Locando del Lago and Il Moro offer happy hours from 4-7pm which feature their food either at reduced prices or as free tastes along with drink specials. The best way to travel can be by sampling la dolce vita (the sweet life) by taking the time to drink and eat leisurely, while enjoying conversation with friends and strangers at one of the Northern Italian places in Southern California.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Melrose Places

The places on Melrose have changed dramatically over the years, especially since the opening of the Grove shopping center just a few blocks away. Many of the hip chic stores have relocated or closed, and much of the funky street character has given way to cheesy cheap sleaze. But there is always hope in transition, and there are a few places which could breathe in a new life on Melrose.

For something French and new, try the French restaurant Comme Ca (which means "Like This") in the heart of the antique store area. They specialize in familiar French bistro dishes in a modern setting. One of the best places to find a typically Parisian menu of everything from oysters to steak frites, with a nice selection of cheeses and desserts. It's got the comfort food of a nice neighborhood place tucked in the suburbs of Paris but with a nod to fresh Californian vegetables. A large selection of wines by the glass keeps the small bar busy, a good place to wait for a table if you forgot to make a reservation. A nice plus is the service here, which is kind (if hurried), and another bonus is their own valet parking lot (in an area of scarce parking).

For something almost new (open since 2005), try M Cafe by Chaya which bases its' menu on macrobiotic foods and a global perspective. Breakfast is probably the best time to go and try out a scramble with tempeh or their cranberry walnut french toast. It's got a tiny lot and a few outdoor tables, so it's hard to find a place to park or eat in here, but worth going to pick up food to go that is tasty and healthy. Their prepacked lunch boxes take all the decision making out of the equation and give a good sampling of their menu. The only negative I found was their desserts looked better than they tasted (give me butter and eggs for my desserts please!).

Although Melrose Avenue has changed over the years, some things never change and keep the allure alive. The famous bookstore the Bodhi Tree, and its' annex for used books around the back, is one of the best places to met your favorite authors. If you are a fan of new age and spiritual writings, come meet the authors when they have their book signings (free). I discovered Alan Cohen's book "A Deep Breath of Life" at the Bohdi Tree and he had a book signing here when he released his latest book. The bookstore itself is a maze of sections devoted to everything from the historical and referential to the esoteric. Just wander around the maze and you will find cards, calendars, tarot cards, and gifts for the most spiritual of your friends.

Whatever your religion or spirituality, you can coexist here with the rainbow of all possibilities.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Funny Times

Laughter is good medicine, but you don't have to be sick to laugh. One of my favorite ways to lift my spirits and have some fun is to watch a good comedy. Jeff Dunham is my favorite comedian. Jeff is a ventriloquist who works with puppets he makes himself. His DVD "Arguing with Myself" always makes me laugh; my favorite character is Walter. Walter is like every crabby old person you have ever known (maybe I am getting crabbier in my old age and Walter reminds me of myself). Jeff won as the best comedian of Comedy Central this year, so if you haven't seen him, go to his website and watch a clip of him with Walter or Peanut. I promise it will leave you laughing and wanting more. Be sure to watch the bonus features on his DVDs which have deleted scenes from his taped show that are as fun and funny as the featured bits. I think the funniest segment is when two of his puppets are speaking in Spanish and Jeff says he feels left out because he doesn't speak the language. It is comedy at its' best because you forget the puppets are actually Jeff arguing with himself! He tours nationwide, but until he comes to your city, buy, rent or borrow one of his DVDs.

When I want to see live comedy I like going to Hermosa Beach's "Comedy and Magic Club". It is where many famous comics go to practice their material before performing in bigger venues. Tim Allen and Jerry both performed here regularly before they got their own shows, and Jay Leno is still a frequent headliner here. The smaller venue makes every seat a good one and makes it feel more like a private club than a big stage. You can eat here and get a better seat for the show, or simply come in for the show if you prefer one of the better restaurants in the area. Unlike the Improv or the Comedy Store, this is a showcase for the one person performing, so check out the schedule to be sure someone you like is playing the night you want to go.

May all your times be funny and fun.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Local wine & spa

Sometimes a quick day or two away is enough to feel like you've been on vacation, especially if you can go wine tasting and have a spa treatment on the same trip. Just about an hour and a half away from Los Angeles is Los Olivos, where you can stay in a nice suite with a working fireplace and huge bathtub at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn. There is a pool and small restaurant on the premises if you don't want to walk around to the cafes in this six block town. The town has NO big chain stores or restaurants so it feels like time has stood still for the last few decades. It's a pleasure to get all your meals made on the premises and buy things that are not available in every mall in the U.S.. There is even a small art gallery on the "edge" of town (that means one block behind the main street). There are wine tasting rooms on the main street, and the Divine Day Spa set in a cottage at the entrance to town. All this is already a nice getaway, but then add in the wineries just minutes away and you have a true vacation. The Fess Parker Inn has packages with the Divine Day Spa and /or various wineries that give better discounts than booking it all yourself, just go to their website to pick the package that you prefer. My favorite winery in the area is the Firestone which has a little gift shop with all things wine related from chocolates to go with that nice bottle of red, to earrings with different colored "wine" in the glass.

Nearby in the town of Santa Ynez, is the Artiste art gallery and tasting room, with art by one of my favorite artists Aldo Luongo. They have several artists showing their work here and you can buy it here and then have them ship it home for you. Their bottles are blends named after the paintings that grace the labels; great collector's items if you have the discipline not to drink the wine (or buy two bottles, one to drink, one to keep). The Artiste is in the middle of the town of Santa Ynez, so you can stroll the few blocks that make up this quaint town and have dinner at the Vineyard restaurant. The Vineyard has live music and special wine & dinner menus that feature local vintners; the best time to go is when it's warm enough to enjoy sitting outdoors on their patio.

It's not as big or varied as Sonoma, but it's less than two hours from Los Angeles, and a few minutes from Santa Barbara (the big city in this area). Sometimes smaller is better.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gyrotonics & Gyrokinesis

Gyrotonics and Gyrokinesis are exercise and movement systems that were developed by an injured dancer to rehabilitate himself from injuries he sustained while dancing, but you don't have to be a dancer or injured to benefit from the training. Gyrokinesis is done without machines, and Gyrotonics is with machines, so a personal trainer is required for safety and to ensure that you are performing the movements correctly. The movements are more elliptical than linear and they make you move your body in ways that stretch out muscles not usually affected by regular gym work-outs. If you like Pilates, you will enjoy and be challenged by Gyrotonics.

I had a personal session with Tavi Stutz (who has worked with Cirque du Soleil performers) at In-Spiraling Movement Arts . A good instructor will make the difference between being frustrated, and excelling, so make sure you have a trainer you like when you start. I had tried sessions with another trainer, but Tavi made my sessions fun. He explained the intentions behind the movements, understood how to correct my uncoordinated faux pas, and encouraged me to try it again (and again). The movements are easy to do, but challenging to do correctly (like shooting a basketball toward the basket is easy, but getting the ball into the basket, not so easy). I felt looser and more relaxed after my session, like after a good yoga class.

If you have any chronic pain or are challenged by any injuries, try this type of movement. It's not a sweaty fast paced exercise, so if you are looking for something like a spinning class, go somewhere else. However, if you love to dance, or simply like making fluid movements with your body, you owe it to yourself to try Gyrotonics. In some countries like Switzerland, Gyrotonics is actually covered by their health insurance! Maybe everyone will do gyrotonics here one day because their insurance requires it, or simply because it feels better to move through life with ease and fun!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Diamond Art

Art feeds the soul, and there is a store in Laguna Beach called Art for the Soul that lives up to its' name. The colorful storefront and window display will draw you into the store if the name does not. Inside there are beautiful unique pieces from artists who work with glass, metal, and wood. From the intricately carved and painted furniture, to the playful martini glasses, there is a gift for anyone. They even have a section of mezzuzahs! My favorite piece in the Laguna store is the enameled rainbow water fountain in the back. Even if you only buy one piece, like a glass ornament for your window, it will be the focal point of your home. They also carry inspirational books and cards, so whether you are shopping for a friend or yourself, there is artful soul food here.

For all the colorful art at Art for the Soul, there is nothing like diamonds to truly make my soul sing a happy tune. I have known Bryan Shaw for over 20 years, meeting him right after I bought my engagement ring. Too bad I did not know him when I was shopping for my diamond, since Bryan's company, Shaw Diamond in Encino, is a wholesale diamond broker. I could have saved HALF of what I paid for my diamond (yes, I paid for my own diamond engagement ring - do I need to add that I am now divorced?). But the good thing is that I have bought numerous other pieces of jewelry from Bryan, and I have referred other people to him for their engagement rings and other jewelry purchases. He will help you design your own pieces if you simply sketch out an idea, or you can peruse the selection in his store. It's always helpful to know a jeweler, but it's even better to know a wholesale diamond broker.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cravings on Pico

It's wonderful to have neighborhood places within walking distance that serve what you crave. I live in a great neighborhood for all kinds of food cravings.

My friend Pel drives down from the San Fernando Valley when she craves Japanese food to eat at Yabu. Yabu is a Japanese restaurant that has a bit of everything Japanese, from buckwheat soba and udon noodle soups, to broiled yellow tail collar. They even have a limited sushi menu. It's a small place, so be prepared to wait unless you go right when they open or close. They make the best asparagus I've ever eaten. Even though they were nice enough to tell me how they made it, I have not been able to duplicate it at home (I suspect that they purposely omitted something from the recipe). Oh well, it gives me a good excuse to go out to eat at Yabu when I crave asparagus and broiled mackerel.

When I crave Thai food, my choice is Chan Dara, a restaurant just a block away from Yabu which has a reputation for beautiful servers and authentic Thai food. My friends who have lived in Thailand say that this is the place to go for the true flavors of Thailand. They have a happy hour with specially priced appetizers, and drinks with cute names like the Silk Panties martini, so you can try them out after work one day and stay on for dinner. If you like truly delicious grilled sea bass with coconut rice, or a seafood pad thai with king crab meat, this is the place.

When I crave ribs, it is Mr. Cecil's BBQ that gets my business. Started by a guy who used to BBQ at home until his backyard could not handle the demand, this place has the falling off the bone smoky ribs that every Southerner loves. They have sauces on the table, but the ribs really don't need anything other than napkins. I prefer the beef ribs, but those who love baby backs will love them here. They even have free-range BBQ chicken and catfish for those who want something a little lighter with their hush puppies, coleslaw, and grilled corn on the cob. They only have one bottle of wine on the menu, and it goes for about $500, but who drinks wine with BBQ? This really is a soft drink and beer kinda place. Bring your appetite and use your fingers.

You may always get what you need, but it is a true pleasure to get what you crave on Pico.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Champagne Taste

I have always loved Champagne; my favorite (so far) is Laurent-Perrier Brut Rose which has the most delicious bouquet and beautiful color. It even comes in a Kosher version that should be at every Passover table instead of the usual grape syrup! It can not be found in every supermarket, but can be found at Wally's in West Los Angeles. This place will always have it in stock, with vintages and vignerons from the rare to the unusual. They have wines in stock here that could not be ordered by most other stores. Wally's is what I would like as my personal cellar. From a Latour that will impress the pickiest of connoisseurs (and will set you back about a thousand dollars), to a new find that will give you change back on a $20 bill, they have it all. They also have a nice selection of cheeses and breads so you can pick up some food to go with your wine and set up an impromptu picnic. You can order online or have them make a gift basket for the holidays that takes out all the work of choosing what would be best. If you live in the area, they are having a Champagne Tasting at the Merigot Hotel June 1, 2008, so sign up and go with a designated driver.

Another place I go to for all my champagne is the Wine Warehouse, which is what I would love to have as my personal vault. They have been at the same location for about 30 years, and I remember when it was only a small two aisle store that you could not wheel a shopping cart through. Now they have a temperature controlled vault within the store for their rare wines that is three times bigger than the original store! If there is something that you seek in mass quantity or simply at a good price, this is the place. If you sign up for their mailing list, you will also be able to purchase wine futures (meaning you buy at a predetermined price before the wine is produced/released). Like Wally's they also have frequent tastings, and carry cheeses, meats, and frozen epicurean appetizers to complete a picnic or party.

Above the Wine Warehouse is their restaurant, Upstairs 2. Upstairs 2 offers small bites of hot and cold tapas along with flights of wines, or small 2.5 oz tastes of wines, so you can have a different wine with each small plate. It's a fun way to try out dishes and wines without committing to a full meal and bottle. Their menu even has helpful wine guides next to each dish, so you can choose using their wine "cheat sheet". They have limited hours, but often offer special menus, so check their website before heading over for a bite.

To paraphrase Julia Child, "Champagne makes you happy." Go be happy!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Workout clothes that work out in the world

Many of us go straight from our workouts to our errands, so wearing clothes that can literally move with us as we live is not only convenient, but often a necessity. I am not willing to go out to lunch in sweats, nor go to my workout class in jeans, so I found two places that agree with both my my principal of versatility and my sense of style.

The first store is Lucy, which has stores all over the U.S., as well as a website with soft, stylish, comfortable outfits and separates in neutral palettes. I can wear their everyday pants (which have POCKETS!) out at night with a sexy tank top after wearing exactly the same outfit doing Pilates. I love that their clothes are all machine washable; they offer short, medium, and tall pant sizes, so you don't have to hem! If you sign up to be on their mailing list online or in a store, they will send you coupons that you can print out or use online for discounts of up to 50% off regular and / or sale merchandise.

The second store is Lululemon from Canada. Their clothes are pricey, but the feel of their fabrics has a "soft hand" feel that belies quality. They have flat seams on their pants so you never feel an edge while doing floor exercises. Think of justifying the price by buying one pair that you love and will wear instead of buying two pairs of pants you sort of like but won't wear. The real price is always calculated based on whether you will actually use what you buy.

They have a huge selection of sports bras to fit every activity and every chest in a rainbow of colors, and they will hem your pants for you in most stores for a small fee. They have stores in most big cities or you can shop online. Every once in a while they have sale items from past seasons and styles, so if you want to save some money, choose something from their sales rack.

Of course another great way to shop for workout clothes that work out in the world is to check on Ebay for the same brands you love in the stores; just make sure that the sellers have 1) at least a 95% positive feedback rating (I always read the negatives even if they only have a few) and 2) they have enough transactions to make the ratings count (at least 100 ratings).

Once you get used to being in comfortable clothes that work everywhere you go, you will never settle for anything less. And you shouldn't.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I had never been to New Orleans before Katrina, so I had nothing to compare it to when I finally experienced the city. My first stop was Cafe Beignet on Royal Street for their famous beignets (french donuts), chicory coffee, and the French cafe experience. Everyone goes to the Cafe Du Monde, but I prefer the cozier and more charming Cafe Beignet. There are several locations in the city; the Royal Street location has a fabulous outdoor garden patio.

Staying in the French Quarter, I chose the Hotel Monteleone and it was a wise choice. Far enough away from Bourbon Street to be quiet and odorless (a concern especially in warmer months), the Hotel has a gorgeous rooftop pool, comfortable reception area and a popular low key bar. It is also in a safe area with great restaurants literally across the street, like Mr. B's Bistro (from the Brennan brothers), the famous ACME Oyster House one block away, and the fabulous Galatoire's for that special occasion meal (order the Cafe Brulot for a flaming finale to your meal).

Since I couldn't eat ALL day, I walked around down to the waterfront and back up on Royal Street, famous for antiques and art galleries. The most striking exhibit of all that I saw, was the art of Craig Tracy (a native of the city). Painted Alive must be seen, and then seen again, to see that the animal painting is really a painted HUMAN body. Craig Tracy exhibits in New Orleans and was showing his work on Royal Street last year, although this year he is exhibiting in Florida as well; check his website for details (and to see his gallery of work).

The other uniquely New Orleans shop I loved was Maskarade, just off Jackson Square. They have unique handmade masks made out of leather by Morgan Hersey, as well as ceramic, feather, and tribal masks. For a truly personal expression at Mardi Gras or for any special party or event, this is the place to live out your fantasy, whether it is a scary one or a sexy one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tix to shows or distant shores

Ticket brokers are like stock brokers; they are great when they get you what you want, and terrible when they promise the moon just to earn a commission. There are a few companies I've used which not only deliver, but deliver even MORE than what they promise.

My favorite is the travel broker is Flight Centre. I had checked for flights online and over the phone before contacting them for a quote. Not only did they get me a better itinerary, but they beat the price I got directly from the SAME AIRLINE by $50 just to earn my business! The best thing was that I was able to pick up my tickets from a branch office close to my home the next day, without having to wait for mail delivery. Their prices are especially good on all international flights and vacation packages, but try them whenever you don't have the time or inclination to shop around for your travel arrangements.

For discounts on concerts, plays, and live events, sign up for Goldstar. The service is free and they offer last minute discounts ranging from 10-60% off on popular events like Wicked (they have a special right now for 40% off 25 select dates). I got seats at the Los Angeles Opera starring Placido Domingo for 50% off last season, so they offer something for every taste. Their newsletter gives you advance notice of events, sometimes even before public notice.

If you want (or need) the best seats possible for a reasonable price, then go with VIP Tickets. They do offer discounted seats to some venues like sports, but they are great for getting the best seat in the house if you are willing to pay a bit more for them (about double face value for the front center section). Sometimes it is worth the splurge because there is no other way to get those seats unless you know someone who works on the show. VIP will send out the tickets via messenger and they won't charge your card until the seats are confirmed. It's the next best thing to having your personal concierge.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Glass hearts, Heavenly hair

I received a very unique graduation gift from my friend Cindy, made by Cuneo Furnace, that I treasure to this day. Cuneo Furnace is one of the oldest and most innovative glass art studios in the U.S. and they even have a piece in the Smithsonian Institution. The pieces are all unique, with themes and colors to suit every taste or occasion. The hearts are also available as pendants, so you can wear your art; there are egg shapes and marbles for people who prefer to collect ovals and circles.

Taka Hair Salon
has an amazing stylist named Akiko who has been cutting my hair for nearly ten years. The Salon is usually full of trendy Japanese clients, but everyone is made to feel welcome. They have some specialties that appeal to non-Japanese clients like the Yuko hair straightening system which gives those with curly hair, smooth straight hair (which we Asians get permed to get curly!). Definitely worth a trip just to get a wash and blow dry so you can get their scalp massage (an Akiko specialty). The salon uses and carries the Bumble and Bumble line of products which include my favorite coconut shampoo and super rich conditioner; my hair feels thick and silky after using the Bumble and Bumble products, just like when I leave the salon. If your scalp and hair need a makeover, go to heaven by stepping through the door of Taka Hair Salon.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Beautiful Places

Sometimes we need a little help to bring our inner beauty out; maybe a bath would be a good antidote revive your spirits and make you glow from the inside out; pour in some of the great bath products from Lignes St. Barts or some Monoi from Tahiti to add a touch of an exotic and luxurious vacation for your senses.

Number One Beauty Supply in Santa Monica has everything you need from hair products to make-up, with top brands like Epicuren (they make a facial sunblock that feels smooth, smells clean, and does not make you break out), J.F. Lazartique, for silky healthy hair, and Bloom to make your lips moist and shiny.

They also carry my favorite fragrant candles from Tocca and Trapp to help set a beautiful mood. If you would like to put together a nice gift basket for someone, this is the place, even if that someone is yourself!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lessen your Landfill contribution

One of the biggest landfill components these days are water bottles. Yes, it is great to drink water, but many bottled waters come from MUNICIPAL sources (Dasani & Aquafina have both said YES they bottle their water from FAUCETS). Others come from countries like Fiji, so far away that the energy it takes to bottle and ship the water makes it ecologically insane to drink a water that the natives do not drink!

So what can we do? Do what Dasani & Aquafina do, but better. Buy a filter for your faucet or buy a pitcher with a filter so that you can bottle your own water for a fraction of the cost and drink it out of a reusable container. Better yet, a NON-PLASTIC container so it will never taste of plastic or have the chemicals of the plastic leach into your drinking water from the heat of sitting in the heat of your car. I bought SIGG water bottles from Switzerland, which are the sturdiest, most fashionable (yes, you can be green and fashionable) and most well-made drinking containers. They NEVER taste like plastic, they are made to hold even acidic drinks like juices without corroding, and they have styles and colors to reflect your individual style! You can probably find them in your local outdoor gear shop like Adventure 16 or REI, if you can't find them locally, go online and order them. If you like a flavor with your water, buy the PUR water filter with the flavored water attachment (great for kids or people who don't like "plain" water).

Another great "green" thing to do to lessen our landfills and footprints on this planet is to get reusable grocery bags. Europeans have been doing this for decades since plastic is not a way of life there as it is here. Every store markets themselves with canvas or plastic carry bags bearing their logo. Some places here do that like Trader Joe's which has several styles of bags from wine bottle carriers to cold insulated bags. Nubius Organics has several beautiful grocery and carry all bags that will make you wonder why you ever settled for a plain generic plastic bag to carry your groceries.

If you want to read about the possibilities of living from "Cradle to Cradle", then buy the book of the same title and get inspired. The book is even printed on a material that is reusable!

Lessen your landfill contribution with just two simple things, a reusable water bottle and a reusable grocery bag. It's easy to be green!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hermosa Beach habit

I used to live in Hermosa Beach. I think everyone should live at the beach at least for a year of their life, just like owning a convertible, it's one of those experiences that is necessary to the experience of life. Sometime once is enough and sometimes it isn't, but either way you can always go back to visit and act like a native.

I recently went back to Hermosa Beach right before sunset and strolled around Hermosa Avenue, noting with nostalgia all the places that had changed or were simply gone, all the while noting with pleasure that some places are still there after nearly twenty years.

Greeko's is still there (and has been since 1990) selling hippie hemp wallets, sandals and smoking paraphernalia. It's like time never moved inside the store full of tie-dyed clothes and incense.

Hennessey's tavern is still where it was at the end of the Pier, but with an upgraded sundeck giving a spectacular view of the beach. Still great for drinks and burgers.

Across the pier, there is the Cantina Real with great Margaritas. A good breakfast can be had at the Cafe Bonaparte bakery/cafe right next door.

A new addition is Mediterraneo with great drinks like the Helvis (a spicy peppery martini) and a good happy hour special of tapas (but be careful what you order - I had half cooked shrimp and over cooked lamb skewers).

There is a convenient new parking lot next to the pier and a bike path along the beach for those who want to work off their drinks and food with some exercise. Maybe you can't go home again, but you can make visiting Hermosa a happy habit.

Pasadena playtime

Some neighborhoods are great to live in even though tourists may come and crowd the place on week-ends. Pasadena is one of them, with places like the Norton Simon and the Huntington Gardens to explore, it attracts tourists and residents alike.

There are fabulous bakeries, like Emma's which has the best pastries outside of Europe. With mouthwatering almond croissants and crumbly butter cookies, it is the kind of pastry shop you would find in any fine European city. It's right across from the Huntington Hospital so if you are visiting someone who would smile if you brought them a cookie or pastry, go to Emma's before your visit and lift someone's spirits.

Mi Piace ("I like it" in Italian) in the heart of Old Town is the best Italian cafe in the area, with sidewalk seating in the middle of town just like the best cafes in Italy. You can be part of town and watching it at the same time. Classic Northern Italian food and desserts are deliciously prepared with friendly service and a relaxed atmosphere.

If you crave sushi, then head to the square by the theatres for Sushi Roku, the inventive sushi place that will leave you salivating for their jalapeno hamachi or caviar specialties.

If you love to cook and you would rather cook than eat out, then you can spend an entire day at Crate and Barrel or Sur La Table, where you can find anything you could wish for to cook any recipe, as well as any cookbooks you may want.

Plenty of places to play in Pasadena, now it's up to you to choose where.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mi Amo Miami

South Beach in Miami doesn't feel like a city in the US. It's more of an international, tropical, Latin metropolis with US citizenship. The beach is wide, white and has fine sand. The ocean is the clearest I have ever seen on the East coast. The food and nightlife have young, stylish, and very sexy tendencies. Facing the beach and located directly on the lively Ocean Drive is the Hotel Victor which just opened in 2004. It's got all the classic Art Deco style Miami is famous for with some sensuous touches in the rooms (let's just say that you might want to explore your kinkier side with some things available in the mini bar). This place is NOT for families...unless you are Madonna. They should start a new slogan that whatever you try in South Beach may go home with you:). the Victor is part of a large chain so you can get points or use them to stay here if you have a gold passport with Hyatt. Prices are reasonable for being in the center of everything with outstanding accommodations. They have packages available that are better bargains if you plan your stay in advance or with a theme in mind (one package is called the Sensuous, another is for girlfriends only).

The Jaguar Spot in Coconut Grove is a delicious way to spend an afternoon/evening tasting from the spoons of ceviche or their full grill menu while sipping Mojitos or Margaritas on their sidewalk patio. They have the most unusual combinations and flavors presented on spoons that allow you to taste their 12 ceviches. Think of tapas on spoons. There was not one that I didn't like. Their menu incorporates the flavors of Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, so this place truly is a Latin feast of the flavors of Miami. The location in chic Coconut Grove makes it an ideal spot to people watch and shop before or after your meal. Or better yet, have a few ceviches with drinks, walk around the few blocks that make up the center of town, come back for the main course right around sunset, and toast your luck at having found a place to taste all of Miami in one spot with a friendly Jaguar.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

MGM Grand Deal

I just got an offer from the MGM Grand for $68 a night from May 26-June 8, 2008. Just call them at 800-929-1111 or go to their website and give them code MKT124. Even though I usually stay at either the Wynn or the Bellagio when I go to Vegas, sometimes a deal is so good that it is worth changing from my usual places and try out some unusual things. The MGM Grand is a resort that is big enough to please everyone, with shopping, restaurants and nightclubs for every taste from young to mature audiences. A nice perk is that the Las Vegas monorail has a stop at the back of the hotel, so it is literally steps away from the other end of the strip in mere minutes.

The hotel's latest addition, the Wet Republic is a pool concept that has to be seen, with over 53,000 square feet, the only saltwater pools in Vegas, six waterfalls, private cabanas, and live entertainment galore. This is an adult, hip, luxurious destination in and of itself.

Another unusual thing here at the MGM Grand is that there are also people at the various entrances who will ask if you have time to go to a screening of a new TV pilot show on the property. It's fun to see and give your opinion on shows before they air on TV. If you don't get asked and you want to go, ask someone on the property where to go to see a screening and they'll direct you to the office. It takes a little time but what is an hour when you're having fun?

The MGM Grand is the next best thing to being in Hollywood (some might say it's better).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sapphire Laguna

Diamonds are not the only gems that sparkle, and sometimes colored gems like sapphires can glitter with surprising fire and color. Sapphire Laguna Beach is a restaurant that serves global cuisine with imagination, flavor and warmth like the gem of its' namesake. This is now one of my favorite stops in Laguna Beach, with a view of the water, a warm fire pit for cool nights, and beautiful glass light fixtures inside, the style and decor match the chef's skill in the kitchen. For lunch the sampler is a great way to try out the various dishes if you can't decide, but personally I tend to order the Barramundi (a white fish from Australia) with truffled frites (fries with bits of truffle) and haricots verts (green beans). All the ingredients are perfectly balanced for flavor and texture in a pleasing presentation.

Nightfall brings a romantic sultry vibe to the place and the menu choices reflect the atmosphere with more robust selections. Or if you are in the mood to drink and nibble, the appetizers are perfect small bites to share or satiate instead of dinner, or as a prelude if you linger at the cozy bar. Try a glass of the Chateau Musar 2004 from Lebannon, a smooth blend of Cinsault-Carignan, Cabernet and Syrah. If you love it you can buy a bottle next door at the Sapphire Pantry which also has prepared take out and specialty items for a picnic on the beach. I introduced a friend to French macaroons from the pantry, unlike the coconut ones found everywhere else, these are delicate bite-sized pastry rounds (imagine a fresh lady finger) filled with flavored cream. She loved the caramel.

The complex, called the Old Pottery Place, is located about a mile south of Forest Avenue, so it is a bit of a hike from the center of town, but there is parking in the back if you want to drive. There are several stores all connected to each other, with chocolates, shoes, books, clothes and home decorations, all waiting for exploration after your lunch or before your dinner, so stroll around and eat with your eyes if not your wallet!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Chateau de Fountainebleau

Some people say their homes are their castles, but for some people (like royalty) their homes really were castles or Chateaux. Imagine coming home to this:

This is a picture of the entrance to the Chateau de Fountainebleau near the center of Paris, France. It's the smaller, faster Chateau day trip from the city with packages from the SNCF Gare de Lyon that include the train and bus to the Chateau from Paris. There are audio guides in various languages that go through the detail of what happened in each room, from the bathroom to the plate room! It's fun and interesting to learn about the games they played in the parlor (the men all stood as the women were seated). And seeing the bathrooms of the era makes everyone appreciate the conveniences we take for granted today. Even the size of the books in the library are massive compared to the ones we carry around today (some are 2' x 3' !). The hallways are amazing just for the details on the walls.

It is astounding to be in the place where Napoleon and Marie Antoinette both slept and to see the beds they slept in!
Of course most people choose Versailles as the chateau they visit on their first trip to Paris, and yes, the Chateau and gardens are spectacular. Plan at least a full day or two half days to explore everything. They are constantly renovating and changing the exhibits, so check that the Chateau is open before making your plans.

The most important things to remember when visiting a Chateau is to wear very flat comfortable shoes (cobblestone entries are very hard on high heels!) and bring your camera (I forgot mine when I went to Versailles!)

Bonne Visite:)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Taste of Sawtelle Blvd.

There are a few streets in Los Angeles that are mini-neighborhoods, Sawtelle Blvd. is a mini Japanese town on a street. The area used to be where all the Japanese nurseries were before it got built up, so the restaurants and shops still reflect the tastes of the old (and now new) residents.

There are countless favorites on the stretch between Olympic Blvd (where the conference center the Olympic Collection stands) and La Grange Street. Think of it as a Japanese Third Street Promenade.

Starting at the Olympic Collection, there is everything from the fusion restaurant Zip Fusion, to Pinkberry. My personal favorite is not Japanese at all but French, Crepes Dusigne located at 11301 W. Olympic Blvd #125, L.A., CA 90025 Tel 310-476-0903. It is a very small cute cafe with savory to sweet crepes and personable owners. I have had crepes all over Los Angeles, and these are by far the best I've had outside of Paris. Warm, soft, and delicate, the fillings are as fresh as the produce from the Farmer's markets where this cafe got its' start. They even have French television in the cafe!

On the same side of the street just north of the Olympic Collection is a mini mall which houses my favorite Ramen Place, Kinchans, 2119 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, Tel # 310-445-0031. I love their spicy pork ramen, but you can get everything from mushroom beef to spicy mabo rice. This is the soup you want after watching the classic noodle movie Tanpopo!

Two doors from Kinchans is the best Boba Tea place on this boulevard, Volcano Tea, 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025 Tel #310-445-5326 They have flavors ranging from mango to lychee and everything in between, with or without milk, boba, and jelly. They even have Wifi!

Across the street is the Nijiya Market, 2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #105, Los Angeles, CA 90025 Tel# 310-575-3300, with everything you need to make any Japanese meal at home. They even have some prepared to go sushi and asian meals that are actually close to restaurant food if you don't feel like cooking. With a little patio outside, you can eat your lunch at the supermarket.

Next to the market is Beard Papa, 2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #110, Los Angeles, CA 90025 Tel# 310-479-6665 which makes....FRESH cream puffs! Best eaten right at the store or within minutes of buying them, you will not be disappointed!

Go get a taste of Sawtelle!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Beverly Hills Hotel

I spent several hours today in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I have to write about my experience at this landmark hotel. From the moment I drove up to valet parking, I felt as if I was on vacation. Helpful people were everywhere, one personally escorted me to the bungalow where I was meeting some people. On the way the famous Polo Lounge was bursting with well-dressed and nice people who even opened doors for me as I passed through with a huge bag. Nice to be in a classy place where people actually have class!

The bungalow was like a mini-home, with a wonderful secluded patio complete with comfortable cushioned chairs and extra wood for the wood-burning fireplace inside. It was nice to be part of a hotel yet not notice the neighbors since the walkway was quite a distance away from the actual door of the bungalow with beautiful honeysuckle bushes giving each bungalow privacy (even on the patio).

Inside was a spacious living area tastefully furnished in neutral tones but with nice touches like climate control and music for the entire suite. There was plenty of space in the bedroom and bathroom as well, with plush bathrobes and towels as you would expect from a five star hotel. And even though great service is expected, the true test is always whether or not it actually meets expectations. With several deliveries and pick-ups during my stay, I can definitely affirm that service is top-notch, from the laundry, to room service, to outside deliveries, everyone was prompt, courteous, professional, polite, and efficient. That alone is worth choosing this hotel for a stay.

I was also pleasantly surprised as I left as I got my car back five minutes after giving a valet my parking ticket. The prices are on par with other fine establishments in Beverly Hills, so if you want a splurge, this is definitely worth it!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Do it yourself travel and reservations

My friends referred me to the website inteletravel which allows you to become an independent at home travel agent with all the benefits and commissions. They send you some literature to study and you pay a small fee yearly, but you can start using your travel agent ID as soon as you receive your enrollment package. Travel agents get nice perks like discounts and upgrades that the general public doesn't get, and the prices they can get are comparable or better than the discount travel websites, so if you travel frequently, or know people who will book their travel through you, this might be worthwhile for you.

It's also a nice career to start from home if you have a family or just want to do something part time. All commissions vary based on whether you are booking airfare, hotels or cruises. Inteletravel takes a 30 % cut of your commission unless you meet certain dollar sales amounts (if you meet the performance levels they set, they take only 20%), but there is no minimum you must book, so consider your commission money a bonus just for booking your own travel package.

Another do it yourself website that I love is opentable which is completely free and allows you to book restaurant reservations worldwide while earning points that are redeemable for cash. For people who eat out more than 12 times a year they also give you VIP status and restaurants see that when you make your reservation. I love hearing about new restaurants or seeing menus for the ones I'm considering all in one place. I've gotten over $100 in open table money for eating at the same restaurants I already love, all just because I made the reservation through open table.

The service is helpful when you travel to a new town and want to find a good restaurant because you can search by city, type of cuisine and/or price. The only things to note are that reservations made by telephone or through the restaurant websites don't count towards your points and changes or cancellations should also be made through the website to avoid penalties (like not being allowed to make anymore reservations through opentable). They even have a convenient feature which allows you to invite people or send a map for a party.

Go travel & eat and make some money while you're doing it!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Asuka Sushi

One of my favorite things to eat is sushi, but finding a good sushi restaurant is rare even in Los Angeles where sushi is a favored and popular meal choice. Part of the problem is what I call the "pizza phenomenon" which is when everyone eats it, but more people are interested in fast and cheap than in quality and taste.

Unfortunately, I recently ate at one of the restaurants I used to like, but it has changed and the quality is no longer what it used to be when it opened. Keeping prices down is great, but I would rather have paid a little more for better quality. There is one sushi place in Beverly Hills (which shall remain nameless) that is so expensive that it is affordable only to trust fund babies. I am not saying quality at ANY price, just a fair one. I could not say my taste buds could tell between their $15 per order for ONE piece of fish flown in from Japan and another restaurant's $7 per order of two pieces for the same fish, also flown in from Japan (probably on the same flight). So now my hunt is on for a new favorite sushi restaurant.

Today I ate at Asuka, located at 1266 Westwood Blvd., L.A., CA 90024 Tel 310-474-7412. It's next to Westwood Village, but south of Wilshire with it's own lot, so parking is not a problem here. The fish is fresh, with some specialty items like Blue Nose and Halibut which are flown in from various countries like Japan or South Korea. The nice twist here is that they have a Robata grill, so skewers of duck breast, beef, chicken, or vegetables are available for non-sushi eaters. It's a nice neighborhood place with friendly service and clientele; someplace you could drop in as virgin client or a regular and be treated equally well. They do big specialty rolls like the Futomaki or the Nomo, but they also have daily fresh fish specials which may include Halfbeak or Shad. It's a good combination place for both sushi enthusiasts and Japanese food novices to eat together and maybe strike up a friendship over a new find. Definitely worth a return trip.