Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brazilian Bossa

Some friends called me last night on their way home from the airport wanting to have dinner before going home; it was 9:30 pm when they called and I knew that by the time they got to me in West Los Angeles, most restaurants would be closed, so I suggested we try the Brazilian restaurant Bossa Nova.

Bossa Nova has been in business on Pico (near the 405 and 10 freeways) for about two years now, but they have extensively renovated and they now have a parking lot across the street and a front door. The reason I suggested we try this place was the new sign they put up saying that they are now open until 4 am seven days a week. I figured it was a good time to try them out since the great Chinese place Hop Li next door shuts it's doors at 10 pm sharp.

The restaurant was fairly full at 10:30 pm, but it was easy to get a table wherever we wanted; a few diners opted for the outdoor patio on this warm night, but we chose to stay indoors with a frosted glass view of the bamboo plants. Service was friendly, but quite slow; we waited a good half hour to get our bread and another 15 minutes more to get our food. Once the food arrived we were happy with the flavors, but I would not order a steak here without specifying very clearly if you want your meat done less than medium well. All that being said, their seabass was fantastic, along with the mushroom risotto and the sauteed spinach. The pork chops were tasty, and the side dishes were well executed. If you choose your entrees wisely you will be rewarded here.

No matter the (few) shortcomings, Bossa Nova is a great addition to late night dining in the area; they offer delivery to the neighborhood, and having a Brazilian choice for late night is Bossa in my book.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Musical Choices

I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of music could probably fit on a post it note. I once tried to play a music trivia game and could not answer any of the questions (we ended up playing Trivial Pursuit instead). My friends still laugh when they remember that I told them I "discovered" this new band named Aerosmith in 1995. I consider it a necessary part of my education to learn more about music by listening to more artists (and my friends agree).

I appreciate music of nearly every genre and I love artists who play from their hearts, whether it is a masterful guitarist, like Carlos Santana, a saxophonist like Gato Barbieri, or a pianist like Jim Brickman. Some singers use their voices as instruments; Brownstone, Christina Aguilera, Kiri Te Kanawa and Josh Groban all personify their music with the most unique of all instruments.

Music can calm your senses, ease your soul, and send you off to sleep. Liquid Mind V, called Serenity, or Liquid Mind III, called Balance, are both ideal for meditation or yoga. The Serenity CD has actually been used to calm hyperactive babies (it works on adults too).

Since nearly all artists now offer single songs for sale on iTunes, you can sample one, buy a few, or buy the album, it's all your musical choice.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Santa Monica Seafood

For the freshest fish you need to have access to both a boat and fishing gear, but for landlubbers, the next best thing is a commercial fish market. Going to where the restaurants go to get their seafood assures you of both quality and value for your money, but most of us do not want to go to a warehouse district in the middle of the night just to buy a few pounds of fish or seafood.

Thankfully, there is Santa Monica Seafood which supplies both restaurants and the public with two retail locations; they conveniently bring the fish to a market that is open normal business hours in accessible neighborhoods. Their product list includes everything from alligator to skate, and includes eight kinds of fresh salmon and sixteen kinds of frozen shrimp. If you are looking for that special fish to make your meal and for some reason they don't have it on hand, they can order it for you.

They are moving from their Santa Monica location on Colorado to another storefront nearby on 10th Street and Wilshire in the Fall. The relocation will expand their store and include a cafe so if you don't want to cook (or don't want the smell of fish in your house), you can eat on the premises.

It may not be as good as catching your own off the boat, but for anyone who doesn't want to bait a hook, get seasick, or clean a fish, Santa Monica Seafood is as fresh as you can get.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Good Mechanic

I never took auto shop in school and know almost nothing about cars, so every time I hear a noise or see a dashboard light, I brace myself (and my wallet) for the inevitable trip to a mechanic. Like hairdressers, babysitters, and doctors, a good mechanic is a rare find. Trusting your transportation to a mechanic is less stressful than trusting your child with a babysitter, but in Los Angeles where cars are (almost) the only way to get around town, being carless is high on the list of stressful situations. Being a woman who knows nearly nothing about cars doesn't help; I am a walking stereotype (like a naive sheep waiting to be fleeced).

I figured men with vintage cars would know the best mechanics, so I asked them where they took their cars for service; they referred me to Prestige Auto in Mar Vista. I needed a 30K service on my import; when I got my car back I thought they had replaced my old car with a new one because it ran so much better. I asked them what they did and they gave me a 15 point list of all the work they had done. The best part was at the bottom of the worksheet; the price was 30-50% less than what two dealers had quoted me for a major service (which did not include as many items as Prestige does for their clients).

One very nice bonus for women here is that this is a small family run business and the woman who answers the phone for service inquiries does her best to earn and keep your business; she explains the details without condescension, she works in as much of a discount as she can, and she lets you know the realistic time it will take to perform the service.

I no longer worry about my car now that I know a good mechanic, now it's time to find a good babysitter for my friends' kids so I can eat a grown up meal with them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More You

To continue yesterday's inspirational theme of friendship, some friends are furry or feathered; your friend maybe a dog, and we can learn how to live happier lives by simply observing and behaving like our friend. Alan Cohen has a book called, "Are You As Happy As Your Dog?" which is a fun and insightful read on how to live a happier life. Simple things like, "dream with your feet moving" and "dig where the real bones are", or "don't settle for mush" are rules humans could apply to make life more fulfilling. Friends don't have to be human to be helpful.

A friend is someone who not only sees you for who you are (even when you don't), but someone who encourages you to become more of who you are by challenging you to grow and learn even if it is uncomfortable.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Christian the Lion

Since it is inspirational week-end time, today's theme is friendship. I believe that all true benefits are mutual, so true friendships are always mutually beneficial. Cindy and I have been friends for about 14 years (and we will be for at least another 44). She has inspired me and supported me, helping me heal and celebrate as I surfed the waves of life.

Friends call you just when you are about to call them (as my friend Pel did last night). Friends are the people you can call at 3am and all they ask is, "What can I do?". Friends are always there no matter the continents, births, deaths, disagreements, marriages, and years that may have come in and out of your life. Friendships are part of the mosaic that makes life beautiful.

Cindy shared this clip of Christian the Lion with me, and I am sharing it with all of you beautiful new and old friends.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Now that the law in California requires drivers to have their hands on the wheel (if they are over 18) while using a cell phone, hands free devices are becoming the preferred choice for people still addicted to driving and talking. I've been using a blue tooth for years, but find the quality of the sound fluctuates from fair to poor depending on traffic and wind noise, not to mention the reception in certain parts of town.

If you want the best over the ear device, the Jawbone uses something called VAS (Voice Activity Sensor) to distinguish the difference between when you are talking (there is a small bump over your jawbone to "read" when you are talking) versus when there is noise in the background. The military actually made a smart move by using these in their wireless communications, and PCWorld named Jawbone a "Best Buy".

If you are only using your blue tooth in your car you can switch to the BlueAnt Supertooth 3 which not only allows you to call, but also answer the phone via voice command. The beauty of this device is that it stays on your visor, so you don't get the annoying ear buzz from over the ear models. An added feature that this device incorporates is a caller ID that speaks the caller name (from your telephone address book), so you know who is calling without having to look at your phone. Parlez-vous Francais? Pas un probleme, this phone speaks six languages.

Both these devices cost under $100, which is much less than paying for tickets (and yes they are ticketing cell phone offenders), but they will give you easier and clearer ways to communicate, which is after all the point of cell phones in the first place.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Neighborhood Bob

Once upon a time every grocery store was a place the local neighborhood supported, where everyone knew your name and preferences. The reason that Bob's Market in Santa Monica still thrives in a town of mega market chains (several of which take up full city blocks) is that they still know your name and preferences. No, they don't carry fifteen brands of toilet paper, or twenty brands of coffee, but they do carry fresh organic produce, USDA Prime meat, and free range organic chicken. So go to the mega market for your favorite brand of paper towels, but go to Bob's for that rack of lamb you are going to cook for a dinner party. They have an old fashioned butcher (a man who actually cuts your favorite meat to order if you don't see what you want in the case). A smaller market doesn't mean higher prices; they are running a special on USDA Prime Porterhouse for only $13.99 per pound right now. How many supermarkets even carry USDA Prime cuts of meat, much less cut them to order?

Some people prefer the mega market chains because they say it's one stop shopping for everything they need. But convenience is a relative term, especially when combined with terms like quality, service, and plain old friendliness. Maybe we should redefine what is convenient to be a place where we leave with a smile because they went out of their way to make us happy. Can you say that about your neighborhood mega market? If not, try your neighborhood Bob's.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Free information

If you are tired of paying your phone company for 411 service, then try the new free Google 411 service; it works from any phone (land line or cell) and it's more versatile and valuable then the services you actually pay for with your phone company! Just call 800-GOOG-411 and let them know what city and state you are calling for information on, or better yet if you have the zip code, they can zone in on your exact area. The added features for cell phones include being able to receive a text message with the information or a map if your phone is internet enabled. Can you think of a better way to find what you are looking for than having it done for free with text and/or maps sent directly to your phone?

And even more free information is available from keepyourcopyrights which explains copyright laws, terms, and offers free sample contracts (that you modify to suit your needs). It is always good to know what your rights are, especially since so many people are sharing their photos, music, and writing online today and it looks like we will all be moving more and more into a virtual world. Chances are you don't care if some of what you create is shared, but for professionals or those who aspire to become professionals, sharing can become stealing, so just as you lock your doors (or at least close them) when you are not home, protect your work.

Most of us learn the expensive way what not to do; getting free information is always good, but only if you use it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bravo Again

Ok, I may have finally found NY pizza in Los Angeles after nearly 30 years of hunting. The last time I found a great pie (in NY people call a pizza a pie as a shortened way of saying pizza pie) was about 20 years ago. Since my discovery was two decades ago, that place no longer exists, so I've been on a hunt ever since for something equal or at least comparable. Since I'm not a big pizza eater, I will not eat just any piece of dough covered with a red sauce; it must be good enough for me to enjoy the fat and carbs I am eating or I'd rather eat a good salad.

I was hopeful when I read that Bravo Pizzeria in Santa Monica was related to the Bravo I wrote about in an earlier post on Third Street Promenade, but making good Italian food doesn't necessarily extend to making good pizza. It was also a good sign that the brothers who own this place also have a restaurant in NY, so they actually know how a (NY) pizza should taste. To a pizza snob like me (I'm from NY), the crust must be thin and crisp, the sauce must have flavor, and the cheese must be of the non chemical kind. There are a few places that make a passable version, ZPizza and Pizza Rustica both offer good healthy west coast versions, and Papa John's does a good chain version, but Bravo gets my vote for first place in the endless NY pizza snob contest for the best pie on the West Coast.

Yes, the prices are a little more than elsewhere, and yes, they only deliver if you live nearby, but this place is worth both the price and the trip to their small counter window overlooking Main Street with a cute outdoor courtyard. They offer specials on Tuesdays for a 2nd pizza at half price, and delivery discounts on Mondays and Wednesdays, so you can have your pie and eat it too price wise. The classic Margherita is the definition of pizza, fantastic quality mozzarella with a great tomato sauce; the Fresca is actually vegan, it's basically a vegetable no cheese pizza; the Forget About It, is a chicken parmigiano pizza, and the Bada Bing is a sausage, pepper, onion and mozzarella pizza that is like a sausage and pepper sandwich on a pizza.

If you don't like pizza, they have grilled vegetable salads, eggplant rollatini, sandwiches, wraps and pastas with both Californian and New York tastes in mind, ranging from a classic meatball hero with marinara, mozzarella and parmesan on a baguette, to a veggie wrap. If you want to add something as a side, they make Belgian fries here (fries were invented in Belgium), which means they make fries the right way to get them crispy on the outside, hot and tender on the inside. You can go with a typically Belgian Mayo as a dip for the fries or go with ketchup; try both and compare American style to Belgian style.

And if you have any room for dessert, their cannolis are flown in from their sister restaurant in NY's Little Italy and come either plain or dipped in Belgium chocolate. If you have never had a real cannoli, have one here and you will be spoiled for life.

Bravo's menu says, "Food from the Heart that feeds the Soul." You can literally taste the love and care they put into their food, which is why their food is fabulous.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Suite deal

Ever wish you had a map that you didn't have to fold and that wouldn't tear? What about one that you can clean your sunglasses with while sitting at the beach? Fabmaps by Rand McNally is the answer; you can crumple up your map and still read it because it's not made of paper, but a polymer that is resistant to stains and water! A nice update on a useful product.

With a map in hand maybe it's time to take a break and enjoy one of the suite deals in Las Vegas. I know summer in Vegas doesn't sound cool (temperatures usually range from 70-106 in the summer), but since the pools all have misters and the hotels all have air conditioning, the only time you will really feel the heat will be when you are getting out of your car and into the hotel elevator.

The new Signature at the MGM was designed with people like me in mind: those of us who go to enjoy the restaurants, shows and shopping, but not the gambling. We non-gamers spend money too, and casino hotels are beginning to realize that like any resort, they make money from guests who are simply staying on the property because they spend money throughout the day eating, drinking, and shopping. The Signature is an all suite tower, that is both non-gaming and non-smoking with a 24 hour concierge to help make a stay here a truly personalized experience. They have a special until August 31, 2008 with suites starting at $149 per night which includes a third night free when you book two nights, and two poolside cocktails. Just go to their website or call 877-727-007 and give them code SIG001.

With a Fabmap and a suite deal, Las Vegas can be a cool town.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Alan Cohen

Alan Cohen has inspired me with his books and seminars, but mostly he exudes a radiant joyful energy that transcends teaching. The first book of his that I read was "A Deep Breath of Life" which has daily pages you can use like a calendar. It was so good, I bought four other books by him and attended his week-end seminar at the Chopra Center in San Diego. I find that Alan speaks from his heart in an easy going tone so that the principals he shares are presented with ease and an open attitude; you may like it and use it or not like and and never use it, either is fine.

It is a fine thing to discover a teacher who inspires by example.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Since week-ends are sacred to most people, I've decided to make my week-end posts inspirational, whether it is a site, a saying, an author, or a blog.

My friend Susie sent this link to me and I loved it so much I had to share it here. It's a short powerpoint presentation titled "Has anyone told you?" If you like it, please pass it on (like all good things).

If you saw the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know" you are familiar with Masaru Emoto and his work with water crystals. If you haven't, rent the movie and buy the book or DVD. It's a fascinating study of water crystals from different sources and the effect of prayers, thoughts and environments on the crystals. Since we are 98% water, it makes you wonder about the effects of things like music and words on our molecular structure. Saying "love" to water creates a beautiful crystal, but saying, "I hate you" to water creates a dark murky effect.

Send thoughts of well being to others and yourself; you never know what beautiful effects could result.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bravo Wolfgang

Bravo Cucina on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade stands out as the best place to stop for delicious Italian cuisine with a Californian twist. With classics like handmade gnocchi, “pillow light” potato dumplings, with a choice of Bravo’s organic pesto sauce, or Bravo’s classic pomodoro sauce, chicken piccata, and cioppino, you can satisfy your Italian envy. The Californian twist is the use of organic produce and lighter local choices whenever available like the egg white omelet with sauteed vegetables they serve for breakfast. With the perfect outdoor patio right on the Promenade, this is one of those rare finds in a tourist mecca that is actually worth a stop for a bite whether it is morning, noon, or night.

Just a few (literal) steps away is the fast food version of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants, the Wolfgang Puck Express. Upstairs, above the movie theater is a mini version of the famous restaurants which made Wolfgang Puck famous. If you have never eaten his food before, this is a great place to sample his staples, ranging from a four cheese pesto pizza, to an organic spinach salad served with granny smith apple slices, radiccchio, gorgonzola, and caramelized pecans served with a sherry vinagrette, and finally his fragrant rosemary and garlic roasted chicken served with garlic mashed potatoes. They even have a kids menu with simple fare for young palates, like Linguini with tomato sauce. With a large outdoor patio overlooking the busy promenade, this is the kind of fast food place that sets the mark for others; great food in a pleasant setting for low prices.

Tourists on Third Street can get lucky and find Bravo Cucina or Wolfgang Puck's Express amid the throng of eateries that line this destination, but luck has nothing to do with restaurants that thrive by beating out the competition in taste, ambiance and prices.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lobster Casa Del Mar

In the best of all worlds lobsters should be eaten where they are caught, or at least near the ocean. The Lobster in Santa Monica offers Maine Lobsters perched above the Pacific Ocean. The geography of opposite coasts aside, it is a fine place to watch the waves roll in and out as you enjoy your feast from the East coast. With a panoramic view of the ocean from nearly every seat, (on a clear day you can see up to Malibu and down to Redondo Beach) this is the place to come for a view as well as a meal. Stop in for a Lobster cocktail, a salad of Dungeness crab and wild baby arugula with red flame grapes, shaved parmesan, pine nuts & lemon vinaigrette, followed by a steamed Maine Lobster (they provide bibs). Come for the oysters, fish, or if you don't want anything from the sea, a steak. If you want a bit of everything from the sea, they have a Santa Monica Ciopinno (red seafood stew) which includes fish, and shellfish.

After your lunch or dinner, head over to Casa Del Mar a little further south for drinks and dessert in a classic brick building (this was originally a bath house) with an updated tropical decor. The Veranda Bar in the lobby offers spectacular views from the 20 foot windows, with a menu offering light bites and desserts. Some nights there is live music and a few people may dare to dance, but it is a low key laid back atmosphere of understated elegance; if Tommy Bahama's clothing chain had a bar* it would be like this. Even the bar bites reflect the casual elegance with prime dry aged sliders with carmelized onions on an Alpine cheese roll or an Heirloom apple salad with arugula, pomegranate and pecorino cheese. But we are here for dessert and their chocolate brownie pie with vanilla ice cream will have the most addicted chocoholic swooning. You can have a nightcap here choosing from a marvelous martini menu or their vintage Armangnacs and Cognacs.

Even as the sun goes down, the glow from a dinner of lobster, dessert, and an after dinner drink, will keep you warm through the night.

*Apparently there are Tommy Bahama Bars! Thanks GC.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seaside sushi

Sushi Roku has several locations, including the one I wrote about in an earlier post in Pasadena, but a more low key version is on Ocean in Santa Monica. There isn't a view of the Ocean from the restaurant, but the decor is so calming and peaceful, you won't mind missing the Pacific while you are eating. You can always take a stroll along the coastline later, so think of the view as your treat after lunch or dinner. With wonderful appetizers like Lobster medallions with truffle pomegranate glaze or a Kobe beef tataki with garlic and ponzu, why would anyone look up from their plates anyway? If you go for dinner, they have a Chilean Sea bass with truffle miso glaze and sauteed spinach that will leave you smiling with the contentment that comes from enjoying every bite of skillfully prepared innovative food that enhances the quality of the fish. For sake lovers, they offer premium sakes from Japan that are the equivalent of vintage wines from France, all with notes on the subtle flavors and possible pairings with menu items. Even for non sake drinkers they offer creative cocktails like the Kyoto Rose, made with Belvedere Vodka and white tea Bulgarian roses that is garnished with a rose petal. It's no wonder that this is known for both traditional sushi and sashimi, as well as upscale indulgence.

One great seaside sushi place is not enough, so further south on Ocean Ave. is Tengu. Tengu is the God of mischief, and this is a place where you can get into mischief while eating your meal overlooking the ocean. This place is a hot night spot with DJ's and a busy bar scene, so you might want to go for a late dinner and hang out (or go for lunch and not get into any mischief). Whatever your quota for fun, their food is worth trying. Like Sushi Roku, they offer hot and cold, so you can combine cold and hot dishes like the kanpachi carpaccio (baby yellowtail) with truffle oil, yuzu-soy dressing, black pepper, and chives, then go to a hot dish like the jalapeno-miso marinated Chilean sea bass with grilled garlic shoots, jalapeno,chili-lime sauce. This is a wonderful place for vegetarians; they offer very inventive salad combinations like the Asian pear & arugula salad, with pomegranate, walnut, crumbled danish buttermilk bleu cheese with an apple-cider vinaigrette. I have never gotten around to tasting the meat dishes offered here, simply because the fish has been so good, but they do offer a full menu of "land" dishes with several cuts of beef, lamb and chicken for meat lovers. While some restaurants/wine bars offer tastes of several different vintners so you can have your own private wine tasting, at Tengu, they offer a sake flight of three sakes. It's a great idea to introduce premium sakes to customers who can compare sakes without a big commitment.

Seaside sushi by the seashore; try saying that three times fast!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Your Y

Can't decide if you want Chinese, Thai or Japanese food? There is a place that serves all three, right on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, called Yangtze. They are one of the few places on the Promenade to offer a 1/2 price sushi bar happy hour every day after 5pm except Friday and Saturday. When you can't decide what you want to eat, or there are several of you each wanting a different Asian cuisine, you can come here without compromising on your craving. They do a very respectable job in each of the cuisines and they do a very good job of adjusting the spiciness of certain dishes to your taste. This is the place where you can start with pot stickers, then segway to pad thai and kung pao. My favorites here are the spicy noodles with shrimp and the fish with black bean sauce. One of the things I like best about Yangtze is their outdoor patio which looks directly onto the Promenade. You can people watch as you graze, but keep in mind that just as you can see them, they can see you too, so if you don't know how to use chopsticks, you may want to stick with a fork.

Just a few blocks and a couple of mental continents away, is the English Pub, Ye Olde King's Head. Serving standards like fish and chips (best with malt vinegar), shepherd's pie, Welsh Rarebit (which as their menu says, has nothing to do with rabbits) and Scotch Eggs (again as their menu says, wrapped in sausage, not whisky), this is where ex-pats of England go for a taste of home. I came here after I had been to London, and it was a great reminder of the family feel of the pubs, with friendly service and the kind of meat and potatoes comfort food that most people crave. In a nod to it's location in health food oriented Santa Monica, they do offer a few salads and vegetable dishes along with a few curries in a nod to the heavy Indian presence in the U.K. There is a shoppe next to the restaurant, selling all things English from tea cozies to shortbread, and a bar with two dart boards where very competitive games are played. If you are looking to watch a good game of football (we call it soccer) with people who know the game, stop by here for a pint of Guinness with your mates. If you prefer English tea, come by on a week-end or get a group together and ask them set up a tea party for you. It's fun as an alternative to an American brunch.

Two restaurants that start with the letter Y, continents away from each other in ambiance and offerings, yet only a few blocks away from each other. It goes to show that your world is as close or far away as you make it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

14 Juillet

Since today is le 14 Juillet (French Independence Day), today's post will be about a few of my favorite places in Paris, and I will be writing some of this post in French since this is about places in France. Pour mes amis francophone j'ecrirai en Francais aujourd'hui car c'est le 14 Juillet et la Fete Nationale merite au moins un peu de la langue Francais.

Pierre Herme is a name synonymous with quality, innovation, and sophisticated sweets. They presently ship only to Western Europe and Japan, but it is definitely worth a stop in one of their stores if you are traveling anywhere near their locations. Their famous macarons, a thin, crisp shell, circular in shape, slightly rounded, with tempting colors and a tender interior, are only available for pick-up at the boutique. The reason people line up outside the shop is that they carry everything from fine coffee and chocolate products, to jams and cakes, each with a classic favorite or exotic flavor to please your palate; their chocolates come from Madagascar or Java, their macarons and fruit pates have flavors like rose petal and lychee, and they are famous for their pistachio and chocolate cakes. This is truly a haven (or heaven) for those with a sweet tooth.

Pierre Herme est connue mondialement pour ses macarons au parfum de lychee ou rose; malheureusement ils ne livrent pas dehors de pays Europeens ou le Japon, mais vous pouvez commander les confitures, gateaux, et chocolats gourmands si vous avez la chance d'habiter les pays de livraison. Mieux encore, allez chez le maitre dans ses boutiques a Paris et au Japon. C'est vraiment le ciel pour ceux qui aiment le sucre.

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than to drink a toast with friends? O Batignolles is a great small neighborhood wine bar which offers fixed price menus from 12-39 Euros (lunch or dinner). The food is presented in classic fashion, with care taken to make each dish as appetizing to the eyes as to the stomach, and they will help you find the finest wines to compliment your meal. Their selection of wines range from the dry to sweet, aged to nouveau beaujolais, and all the nuances in between. This is a very friendly place, with young servers who know food and wine, all eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. I found this place because it was directly across the street from the apartment I rented, and because of the rain and cold, I only made it across the street rather than heading into another arrondissement where I knew several good restaurants. Sometimes treasures can be found when searching for nothing more than convenience.

Le bar au vins O Batignolles est un petit cafe cache dans une petite rue a cote du parc Batignolles. C'est un tresor inattendu avec les menu a partir de 12-39 Euros (dejeuner ou diner) et des vins particuliers qui vont tres bien avec leurs plats. Les assiettes sont tres bien presentee avec des parfums des produits frais et bien cuisines. J'aime beaucoup le service tres attentif et acceuillant; ils connaissent bien leurs vins et ils seront tres heureux de vous donner un conseil si vous en voulez.

Whether you celebrate today in France or the U.S., enjoy your freedom to choose good food and good wine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Three Indulgences

The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is the famous outdoor pedestrian street literally three streets from the beach (hence the name Third Street), that nearly every tourist has heard of either from a resident or another tourist. What used to be a run down extension of the mall at one end (Santa Monica Place, presently closed as it undergoes an extensive renovation), has developed into a major draw on week-ends and summer nights, with musicians, artists, and cart vendors making it feel like an outdoor carnival. There are over 30 blocks in this neighborhood, so today I'll focus on three decadent places, all within walking distance of each other, each one with a distinct flavor.

Is it decadent to indulge in beauty? Every woman likes to feel pretty, but sometimes we need some help becoming beautiful. Whether it is applying an eye cream, make-up, or perfume, all of us perform some beauty ritual, even if it is as simple as taking a bubble bath with fragrant bath salts. By now everyone has heard of Sephora, been to one, shopped with them online, or a combination of all three. One of the first to open in Southern California was the branch on the Third Street Promenade. You can try out a new look or new colors, or if your timing is good, they may be demonstrating a line of products with make up artists who will give you a professional makeover. Even if all you indulge in is spritzing on a scent you like, just do it!

About one block away, directly across from Santa Monica Place, is Cafe Crepe which offers a French Cafe atmosphere, with huge advertising posters from the Folies Bergere or Perrier on the walls. Crepes may not be decadent (unless you are watching your carb or sugar intake), but this used to be a bar, so you can order a drink in addition to every combination of crepe you can think of from savory spinach with feta, a ham and cheese, or a sweet nutella with banana and whipped cream. The best kept secret to tourists is that the drinks here are the least expensive in Los Angeles for quality brands. Because this was a bar, the people who bought and transformed the place into a crepe cafe got the bar stocked with alcohol for a steal. A name brand mixed drink costs about $4, just slightly more than a soda; this is actually how pricing works for wine in French restaurants in France (since wine is considered a necessary part of lunch and dinner), but I have never seen this kind of pricing here in the US except at Cafe Crepe. If you really want to be decadent, go for one of their XO cognacs (which cost a third of what they would cost anywhere else). It is actually less expensive to get a drink here than to buy a mini airline size bottle!

After indulging in beauty, crepes, and some alcohol, why not complete the day with a fine cigar? Smoking has got the be the most decadent habit in California. Santa Monica is notorious for their strict ban on smoking in all public places, including on the sidewalk within 200 feet of a storefront. But for those of us who wish to indulge in this stinky habit outside of our homes (only the insane smoke cigars inside their homes), there is a haven where cigars can be legally puffed in a private smoking room. Santa Monica Tabacco has a huge walk in humidor with every flavor, size, and accessory a cigar smoker could desire; whether you are looking for the perfect lighter, cigar punch, or a humidor, they have it here. The smoking room makes me feels like I'm in a speakeasy during the days of prohibition; it's a secret place to indulge in a vice, but those who know the location go regularly.

Three decadent indulgences, what will be the fourth?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Two Shoes

They can be sexy, fun, or comfortable, but usually not all at the same time; if you can find the perfect rare combo they are usually very expensive. No I'm not talking about the qualities of a perfect man, I'm talking about shoes. What woman doesn't love shoes? What woman wouldn't want a closet devoted to one of the most addictive, seductive, and expensive of all habits? This obsession is lost on most men, but their addictions are usually with electronics, cars, or video games, (so for the men reading this blog, substitute the word shoes with the words iPhone, Porsche, or Grand Theft Auto). Explaining to a man why we need several pairs of black shoes is easy when you say it's like needing a business and personal cell phone, or a sports car and a family car, or wanting to play more than one video game.

Like all addictions (or obsessions), shoes can be very expensive. Some designer shoes cost more than $1000 a pair. So although we may lust after them, unless our portfolios are in the seven figure range, we can not afford to indulge our designer shoe vice. We may splurge for a special occasion like a wedding or a birthday, but most of our closets do not need insurance (unless we have an Imelda Marcos stash), so how do we feed our desire while keeping food on the table?

I've got two words for you: Two Lips. If you don't already know this brand from Brazil, go to your nearest store or check them out online. They have that rare combination of comfort with fun styles that are actually priced reasonably; most shoes are under $100 and they often have sales with prices around $20 for older styles when the new ones arrive. They have styles ranging from flats to stilettos, and everything in between, including boots and flip flops. You can complete any outfit with a Two Lips shoe, whether you are attending a prom or a backyard BBQ. These shoes are not high end handmade Italian leather, but they are not made in China vinyl masquerading as leather either. If you want something fun that will last more than a week, without spending a car payment, you can probably find something you will like at Two Lips. The best part is that they feel comfortable on your feet compared to some brands which offer the style but not the fit. You can actually walk around in the high heels for a couple of blocks without feeling as if your feet are on fire.

If you have a bigger budget and want even more comfort and style, then check out the Cole Haan Dress Air brand. If nothing but the best quality leather will do, but you want to still want to have some money to pay the mortgage, this is the brand for you. Most major department stores carry this brand which is an integration of Cole Haan style with Nike technology. It's amazing how cushy a three inch stiletto can be when it is built with the padding and flexibility of a sports shoe. These are pricey though, ranging from $200-$500 a pair, (less for the casual flats, more for the boots). Major shoe stores and outlet malls may have the older styles on sale, so if you can find something you like on sale, your feet and wallet will thank you.

You can find both brands at major retailers (either brick and mortar or online), but for the latest styles and sales, go to their stores or their website. You might be able to find a pair of red shoes that you can dance in all night long.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bakery Goodies

The storefront of the Susina Bakery in mid city, foreshadows the European delights that await inside; with curved glass windows and wood frames, the storefront looks like a sweet shop from a fairy tale. There are a few tables outside so you can profit from the (usually) temperate Los Angeles weather, or you can step inside the cafe and enjoy the cozy warmth of an upscale cafe bakery. The service here is very attentive and cheerful. I had three people ask me if I had been helped as I was waiting for my order at the counter; since I was still surveying the goodies in the glass case, they had every reason to suspect I was not done ordering.

I wish I had a reason to take home one of their fabulous cakes, like the Americano, a chocolate sponge cake brushed with espresso liqueur, filled with chocolate mousse and coffee whipped cream, covered in white and dark chocolate marbled curls, or their raspberry lemon dream, made with three layers of vanilla sponge cake, two layers of lemon curd and one layer of fresh seedless raspberry jam, then covered with white chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries.

Instead of being a glutton, I settled on their cookies and pastries instead; wonderful buttery, flaky bites of fruit or jam, made the old fashioned way, from scratch and with love. Yes, you can taste the love in every bite from the fruit tarts to the rolled nut balls filled with jam. I love it when I taste real butter in cookies and pastries instead of the margarine that most commercial bakeries use. For those with an even sweeter tooth, they have a fine selection of candies from all over the world in huge glass jars and in small packages, so you can indulge your sweet tooth as much as you wish.

If you need real food, not just sweets, they have a full cafe menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, quiches and lasagna. They will pack picnic boxes to go, so you can take their food with you to the Hollywood Bowl, the beach, or home if you don't have time to eat it here.

One of my favorite things about Susina is that all this quality is available until 11pm; I've always lamented that my favorite bakeries were closed after dark, but you can come here after a movie or dinner and get dessert!

Dessert after dark is the sweetest treat.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Farmer's Market

The original Farmer's Market at 3rd St. and Fairfax in Los Angeles is more a shopping and eating destination than a market these days. Yes, there are still vendors selling meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruits, but those vendors are outnumbered about 10 to 1 by the many places that sell hats, cards, gifts, jewelry, and food shops which sell everything from hot sauce to roasted nuts.

One of my favorite shops is the French market Mr. Marcel Pain et Vin (bread and wine). The market hosts wine tastings in their wine cellar, and the shop boasts shelves of olive oils, pastas, saffron, foie gras, and aged balsamic vinegars of the highest quality. If you love to cook, you can find what you need here if you can't find it elsewhere. With a large deli case of cheeses and prepared foods, you can skip the cooking and just take something home if you are feeling inspired but tired. Better yet, have your meal at the restaurant directly in front of the shop and have your quiche, salad, or fondue prepared for you. I love their merguez sausage and rack of lamb, but save room for their tarte tatin (apple tart), which is the best I've ever had outside of France.

If you miss New Orleans, go to the Gumbo Pot where they offer all the classics including oyster poor boys, crawfish, boiled shrimp, gumbo (mild or hot), cornbread, and wonderful freshly made beignets (kind of a puffy doughnut) to go with your chicory coffee. They offer different hot sauces to heat up your choices if they are not spicy enough. This place is as close to NOLA food as you will find in LA, so go on a humid day to get a "laissez les bon temps roulez" (let the good times roll) experience.

Brazilians love their meat, and they love it grilled in Churrascaria restaurants, just like Americans love their BBQ joints. If you crave meat, then go to Pampas Grill which offers long skewers loaded with different cuts of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and sausage. The place is cafeteria style; you pick out your side dishes before arriving at the meat counter to choose your meat selection. Prices are based on weight, so you literally pay only for as much as you eat (or as much as your eyes say you will eat). The location in the Farmer's Market is a scaled down version of the restaurants in other parts of the city that offer a set price and serve unlimited servings carved table side, so if you like the food here, go to one of the full service Pampas Grills located all over the city.

French, Cajun, or Brazilian? Maybe a bit of each, starting with a Cajun breakfast of beignets and chicory coffee, then a Brazilian grilled meat and greens lunch, and ending with a candlelit French meal served under the stars. There are many more options to explore here, but we're off to a good start sampling three continents worth of food in one day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Triwest Timeshare

Timesharing started in France, where buying a cabin in the alps for a ski vacation was too expensive for most people, so friends got together to buy shares or blocks of time to trade off using a cabin. It made sense to share a place since no one would be there all year, and most people only wanted a couple of weeks use anyway. The concept grew to involve developers and real estate agents who sold specific weeks of time in a set location for a set price (holidays fetching a premium). Timeshare evolved to include "floating" weeks, points, and trading, so that an owner could literally trade a week in one resort for another one almost anywhere, at anytime of the year. With all these choices and flexibility, timeshares have become a much better choice as a way to spend vacation dollars, especially for retirees who know they will actually use the time they buy. The one cardinal rule of purchasing a timeshare is to use the time bought. Some people have the best of intentions but they find they simply can not afford a vacation anymore with a new house, baby, or job change. As in all things, the cost is ultimately calculated by the number of times you actually use what you buy, so the more you use what you have bought, the more value you ultimately get from your purchase.

Unfortunately, timeshare sales have a very bad reputation for being high pressure and offering questionable products for the price. A few big companies do a good ethical job and provide quality since their corporate reputations are on the line e.g., Disney, Four Seasons, and Marriott.

For those who want to save some money, there is a timeshare company with a stellar reputation for integrity, ethics, and the added benefit of resale pricing which can save you up to 90% off the original sales price (they have a hotlist property at Villas of Sedona for a 1 bedroom + loft for only $995 which originally sold for $12,000). People who can either no longer use or afford their properties, sell them or rent them, so you can reap the benefits of owning properties without having to pay full retail.

Triwest, a Realtor and member of ARDA and RBA (resale brokers alliance), sold timeshares through live auctions for many years in Los Angeles before going online and setting the gold standard with the first international live auction back in the days of dial-up modems. Mario Collura, the owner, is the godfather of the timeshare resale business; he was in the business before all the real estate companies jumped onto the bandwagon, and because Triwest only sells and rents timeshares, their database and expertise is head and shoulders above the other companies. They created the famous timeshare MLS bluebook, with thousands of resorts listed along with all the vital information found in other real estate listings; number of bedrooms, yearly maintenance fees, and the amenities found at the resort. The bluebook works like the auto bluebook, it allows buyers to compare different resorts and prices of properties within the same resort before making an offer to buy, and it allows sellers to price their property competitively.

Triwest also offers timeshare rentals for people who don't know if they would like to buy (it's like renting a car before you buy it); rentals also work for people whose vacation needs change and who don't know what they will be needing from year to year. Mario's lieutenant, Viccie, handles all the rentals, so ask for her if you are interested in renting a property you own or are looking to rent from an owner. They have great deals like a Four Seasons 2 bedroom in Scottsdale for $2100 for the week; where else can you get that kind of price for a 2 bedroom Four Seasons property?

One sign of a good company is the education and information they will give you free; an educated consumer is ultimately a happy consumer. Triwest offers free tips for sellers and buyers on their website and they will give you personalized recommendations as a buyer or seller if you call them. There is never any pressure to buy or sell your property because this is where people go AFTER they have been through the retail priced, high pressure sales pitch. If you are lucky or smart, you come here first, but even if you didn't, now you have a place to sell or rent the place you bought and get a good deal on a better place. Buying or renting timeshare is like pancakes, the first one rarely turns out, but by the second one, you know what you are doing.

Triwest is a good timeshare company which proves that for every bad thing you have heard about timeshare there is always an exception.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Photo Places

Digital cameras have become a way of life for most people, whether it's a camera phone or a palm sized 12 mega pixel hand held, we are all used to the convenience of uploading our photos to our computers and posting them or emailing them.

But every once in awhile old school style photographs are still preferred; who would want only a digital wedding album, newborn baby album, or special moment captured only on a screen? For those times when you want an old fashioned print made to be framed or used as a poster or art piece, there are still thankfully a couple of places which will provide that service.

A & I in Santa Monica has been around for 30 years, and hopefully will continue to provide professionals and amateurs the kind of services that have made them a mainstay. They do everything from process old fashioned film, B&W fiber printing, fine art short run book printing, calendars, brochures, and print mounting. Yes you can get some of their services at your local printing chain, but if you are seeking professional high quality work, this is the only place to consider. There is a reason professionals use them. And although the work is top notch, the prices are very reasonable; they even offer discounts for volume and dealer accounts. They have two locations, one in Santa Monica, and their main facility in Hollywood (where you can schedule a tour if you contact them in advance), but if you don't live in the area, they do offer mail order and upload services.

If you need massive quantities of prints for a promotion (or head shots), then head over to Photo City in Studio City. It's located in a very small mini mall near Universal Studios, so it does a brisk business just fulfilling headshot orders. They provide lightening fast turnaround and their prices are unbeatable, like a current special of $199 for a head shot shoot and 100 - 8x10 photos. High quantities and referrals also get bigger discounts, so if you are planning a massive promotion or starting a new business and need anything photographic, from business cards to postcards, this is the place to get them. They also offer retouching services and make up for photo shoots they set up, so it's one stop shopping.

It's great to use new technology and still get old fashioned prints. Knowing that photo places have the skills and prices to get the best out of both worlds just makes you want to smile for the camera.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Opera Meals

If you are going out to hear Placido Domingo sing at the Los Angeles Opera, you need to eat a meal worthy of the famous tenor you are going to to see.

Ciao Trattoria is just a few blocks from the Opera. A nice stroll, (even in high heels) if the weather is not too cold. Their warm garlic bread rolls are amazingly addictive, so try to save some room for their delicious food. The cuisine is classic Italian, with appetizers like carpaccio (either beef tenderloin or salmon), endive salad with sweet gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts in a Dijon mustard red wine vinegar dressing; pastas like lobster meat filled ravioli with mushrooms and fresh spinach in a creamy tomato sauce, topped with grilled seasoned shrimp, or saffron risotto with asparagus, bay scallops and sweet rock shrimp; their main courses include seared and roasted halibut filet on a bed of steamed vegetables with lemon and oregano oil, and filet mignon in a creamy mushroom and Marsala wine sauce. I love the service here; everyone is friendly and conscious of timing for Opera or theater goers who must get to the show on time. This is a neighborhood trattoria (if your neighborhood is downtown Los Angeles) that makes you smile with delight making you wish it was in your backyard.

Are you in the mood for French food, a little closer to the Opera? Kendall's is directly under the Opera and they are set up to accommodate Opera guests whether you chose to come before or after the performance. They serve classic French bistro food, from oysters to organic (this is Los Angeles) escargots, leading to sea bass with braised leeks and dandelion greens, serrano ham, with a tequila pepper emulsion, or a slow braised short rib with yukon potato puree with baby vegetables and a red wine sauce. Personally I would go for their wonderful seafood platters which offer Maine Lobster, oysters, mussels and shrimp to share with your date; it's always more fun and sensual to eat with your fingers. This is a place to enjoy your meal leisurely, so make sure you allow at least 2 hours to dine before the opening curtain or you could miss your performance (or just come after the show for a late night bite and drink).

Want to be even closer and eat quickly? Then the choice is Cafe Pinot outside the entrance to the Opera. The menu is a scaled down version of Patina at the nearby Walt Disney Center, but the ambiance can't be beat on balmy nights under the stars. The menu is a bit French, a bit Californian, a bit Asian, so if you can't decide what you want (or your date disagrees with you on what to eat), this is the place to go. You can choose from a paella with shellfish and chorizo, or a spice rubbed squab with lobster tail, or the Waygu (24 hour) braised short rib; they even have vegetarian choices, like the ricotta gnocchi with roasted tomatoes, vegetables, a lemon confit and roasted mushroom jus. This is upscale fast food in a beautiful setting.

Before or after the Opera, treat your stomach with a meal that will make you want to sing with joy.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Turn over a new Leaf

Many of my friends are becoming vegans and one of them is into raw foods, so dining out has become an adventure. Seeking tasty meals that will satisfy organic, vegan, and raw, even in the natural food mecca of Los Angeles, is like searching for alternative fuels in a gas guzzling economy; they exist, but most are not yet available or accessible enough for mainstream consumption.

There are a few jewels which promise to advance the cause. If you are courageous enough to be one of the pioneers to sustain the movement towards tasty organic, vegan, and raw foods, I have a few finds to share today.

Leaf is has all the qualities that even the most strict raw, vegan, organic foodie could want, and it has the added quality of taste and green philosophy for those of us who are more concerned about flavor than guidelines. For people new to raw food, this is a great place to begin with familiar appetizers like their cole slaw, hummus, or guacamole. Their salads are beautifully composed creations with organic vegetables, like carrots, sprouts, red cabbage, tomatoes, and mixed greens. For the more adventurous, they offer sprouted chickpea falafal croquettes with tahini sauce, sun dried tomato and walnut croquettes with spinach pesto sauce, and wakame seaweed in ginger shoyu sauce, All their salads can be wrapped in a collard green leaf or a sprouted grain tortilla (not raw). Their freshly juiced drinks and wheat grass shots are fantastic either with your meal or as stand alone smoothies.

They have very simple (raw) decor, and give you a vegetable as your number if you eat in to show the server where to deliver your plates. It's not the most relaxing of atmospheres, so my advice is to order your food to go and enjoy your feast at home. Portions are big, so even if you do eat in the restaurant, you will probably end up taking some of it home (to be eaten the same day).

For a nicer atmosphere and food options that include cooked organic vegan foods, try Native Foods. They have several locations from Palm Springs to Orange County, but the one in Los Angeles is in Westwood Village. They have creative names to go with the creative flavors that mimic familiar classics, like the jerk burger, a Jamaican jerk-marinated seitan steak, lettuce, carrot, red onion, and vegan mayo. Or their Tijuana tacos, with soy taco meat, salsa fresca, Native cheese, shredded romaine lettuce and guacamole on grilled corn tortillas. For stricter diets they offer Mina's Macro Macrobiotics in a bowl, with brown rice, quinoa, tempeh, steamed veggies, sea veggies, sauerkraut & sesame salt garnishes, served with mighty miso sauce. I love how tasty and flavorful everything is on the menu and they explain what seitan and tempeh are in detail on the menu, so that you get a nutrition and history lesson as you decide what to order. Parking in Westwood is difficult, but they do offer their meals to go, so consider coming to pick up a meal if you find limited time street parking. It really is worth the hassle. Consider taking public transportation here (especially with the price of gas these days), since this is prime UCLA territory, numerous bus routes stop here.

Both restaurants offer cooking and educational classes so you can learn about the food you are eating as well as how to prepare it at home. That is really at the heart of this movement; learning why and how food can enhance your well being and your life will change what and how you eat. Once a palate is awakened, it can never again go back to white processed chemical food.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I've tried going to open mike nights, but have never liked them because like a box of chocolates, you really never know what you are going to get (and it usually is not something you like). I prefer regular comedy shows with people who have already cut their teeth and know how to perform with stage presence and without notes.

I had a fun night of comedy at Ha Ha's Comedy Cafe in North Hollywood watching my friend Kyle Stone finally make the jump into stand-up comedy last week, performing his first real gig at Ha Ha's. I went with some friends to see him and give him some moral support; I found a low-key friendly place, with a local crowd and some famous comedians. Last Tuesday night Damon Wayans was there trying out some new material, so Kyle was part of his warm-up posse (way to go for a first time gig!). There is a nice supportive vibe to the place; the comedians tend to work off each other instead of against each other, so the audience benefits from the cohesive energy of people who are happy to be there.

Ha Ha's has a basic menu of bar food and drinks which will do in a pinch, but try to get to the area earlier than the show and have dinner up the street in the new NoHo district just to the north of the comedy club. Go have a snack and a glass of wine just three blocks up at Ecletic Bar and Grill. This bar has some great wine flights to compliment their diverse global cafe menu. If you have enough time before the show, drive over to nearby Barsac which offers French and Italian classics like ossu bucco and bouillabaisse, but I would go for the escolar (fish) that is served with a puree of vegetables, grilled tomatoes and snow peas, with a champagne and sage sauce.

North Hollywood isn't just a bedroom community anymore, there are laughs, drinks, and good food here to enjoy. With the new Orange Metro line running into the center of the new NoHo district, you don't even have to drive here if you live on the west side of the valley or downtown, just hop on the metro and remember to leave before midnight or like Cinderella you will end up walking home.

Friday, July 4, 2008

San Diego Island

San Diego has grown into a major metropolis, but there is a part of it that remains small. Coronado Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge from the north and a narrow strand of land from the south, so it remains part of the city without being swallowed by massive development and traffic.

If you didn't know the homes were worth millions (and pretty much only passed on within families), you might think this was a small quaint community that has steadfastly stuck to its' small town ways out of stubbornness (instead of because of ordinances that strictly limit growth). All this just makes it more of a haven for those who love walking (or biking) from the Hotel Del Coronado (or the Del as most people call it) at one end of town to the Marriott, at the other end of town. Most people know the Hotel Del from the movies and television shows that have been shot here, so it is the official local landmark, and a good place to start your exploration of Coronado. Start inside the hotel itself, the lobby with its' massive mahogany bar, immediately transports to you another era. Go have a drink at the sunset bar on the terrace overlooking the Pacific, then head over to 1500 Ocean and have a lunch of kona kampachi (hawaiian yellowtail sashimi) with kumquat, radish, serrano, lemon oil, avocado mousse, and handmade black truffled pappardelle, with pancetta, morels, pea tendrils, mushroom buerre fondue. Both appetizers are more than enough to make a fantastic lunch; if you are here on a Sunday make sure to try the brunch at the Crown Room (reservations are a must). Make sure you have enough time to enjoy a walk around the hotel to explore the nooks and crannies that wind around the property from the pool to the beach before you leave.

Once you leave the property, you can either head towards the beach or town, so get some exercise as you explore by turning left out of the hotel and walk along Orange all the way to the other end of the island to the Ferry Landing shopping area. At a leisurely pace it will take about an hour if you don't stop along the way to check out the bookstore, clothing shops, and assorted restaurants along the way. Walking is my favorite way to really get to know a city because when you drive past a place, you will rarely stop to take a look inside, but walking by, you tend to stop and it's the only way to truly get the feel of a place. There are bike rentals available throughout the island, so if walking is not your style, rent a bike and enjoy the flat terrain and streets with almost no traffic.

The Ferry Landing, is as the name implies, where the ferry from the mainland lands (duh!), and it is a mini mall of sorts with restaurants and shops that have unique and kitschy things to suit every taste. Peohe's restaurant has a great view of mainland San Diego from it's outdoor patio, so come right before sunset and watch the lights of San Diego light up over the bay. The menu has a little of everything, but come for the view, not the food. Since this post is on July 4, it's worth mentioning that this is a fabulous place to watch fireworks with the San Diego skyline in the background!

When it's time to retire for the night I like the Marriott, right next to the Ferry Landing. Yes, it's a big chain hotel, but that means you'll earn points for your stay (or be able to use ones you've accrued), and this hotel was once the five star Le Meridien, so the original expenses put into the hotel have simply been polished by the corporate veneer. The rooms are spacious, the decor is understated, and the service is efficient. They usually offer a week-end getaway rate, so check before you book for any special offers.

At the end of your stay, take a drive down to the small hidden gem, Coronado Sunset Park, a three-acre patch of green on Ocean Boulevard near Naval Air Station North Island ‘s Gate 5. This park offers a fabulous view of sunsets over the Pacific, a fitting final scene as you leave this San Diego island.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Magic Castle

The Magic Castle is the famous landmark for magicians that sits perched above Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. If you love watching magic or are a magician, this is your Mecca; a pilgrimage here at least once in your life should be on your bucket list. Even from the outside, this Gothic castle with turrets and overgrown ivy, beckons you to enter and explore the mysteries inside its' member's only door. If you know a magician or are a magician, or simply love to entertain yourself and your friends or associates with magic, you can become a member by paying a yearly membership.

I was lucky to have had the doors opened for me by friends who are members (you must also know the magic words to actually open the elevator to the club); once inside, I did not want to leave. There is a strict formal dress code, so entry also requires men to wear jackets and ties (they have some to lend you if you forget), and you must be 21 or over. There are always three shows with different types of magic, each with several show times, so you can see all of them if you stay long enough. There is the main showroom, a small up close room (my favorite), and a secondary showroom where the magician actually used me as part of his act! Get there early enough to explore the castle before the shows, and get in line for the smaller shows early or you may have to wait until the next show time. On busy nights there are sometimes magicians who work in the foyer to the main showroom showing off their card tricks. They serve a full dinner, and have a bar that has the famous invisible Irma playing your requests (only if you tip her). It's a complete night out in one unique and very fun place, after all, where else can you go out all night and spend it in a castle? They are sometimes closed for private events or parties, so make a reservation before you go there.

If you want to go and experience the Magic Castle but are not a magician or member (and don't know anyone who is), there is still a way to get invited. Spend a night at the Magic Castle Hotel just down the road. It's a convenient (but steep) jaunt up to the Castle (the hotel provides a shuttle for ladies in high heels and their escorts). The hotel staff is wonderful, providing sodas during the day and a buffet continental breakfast in the lobby in the morning. The pool area is small, but comfortable and inviting. They go out of their way to make guests feel special, from arranging welcome drinks, to welcome pastries in the suites. The decor is updated retro; everything is clean and the amenities are nice; I stayed in the fully equipped 2 bedroom suite complete with glassware and dishes, CD player, and wonderful orange blossom bath products in the 2 bathrooms. The only problem in the hotel was the water pressure in an old hotel is weak and fluctuates when other people are using their showers, but that is to be expected in a building built in the golden days of Hollywood.

If you manage to see all the shows and want to see a bit more magic, go up to Yamashiro's, built as an exact replica of a place in Kyoto, Japan and have a drink overlooking the lights of Los Angeles before going to bed. Make a wish before you go to sleep to enjoy more magic in life and you may wake to your wish come true.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Your Own Website

By now almost everyone is online and has at least one email account, but there are still some of us who don't have our own website or domain name. Sometimes waiting is good; prices and services have never been lower or better than some of the packages offered today. With so much competition these days for hosting services, companies are making their money on your continued business, so even if you pay less per month, they still make money if you stay with them (and you will tend to stay where the monthly rates are low).

The best deal I have found is at 1 and 1 which offers a starter plan with domain name, 10 GB, an FTP account (you may want this later), 600 IMAP & POP3 supported email accounts with 2 GB of space, firewall protection, marketing discounts with the major online ad services, and spam filter for only $3.99 per month. Yes, that is less that $4 per month to have your own website (my first website cost me $50 per month and that was a discounted price!).

Ok, so now with email and a website, what if you want to start a business and accept credit cards? I researched credit card services and found many had a bait and switch sales team who would say anything to get you to sign up, even if the fine print of the contract had nothing to do with their actual fees. I am so glad I chose Advanced Merchant Services. Their rates may be a little higher, but 0.20% is a very small price to pay for sales representatives who return calls within a day. Their monthly minimum fees are also the lowest I found, at $23 versus the $50 at almost every other merchant card service. The most expensive rate is for telephone approvals and even that rate is a reasonable 3.79% versus over 4% at other institutions. If you are only going to be using your merchant account online with secure checkout or with physical card swipes the rate plummets to around 2%. Ask for Dan Robbins if you want your own merchant account and tell him Elaine referred you (Dan apologized once for taking more than 24 hours to respond to an email I sent him-all the more incredible since I live on the West Coast and the company is based on the East Coast).

Now that you have the tools, use them to build whatever business you love!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Discounts near & far

Cirque Du Soleil has five shows in Las Vegas and they are adding another one with Criss Angel this September (see earlier post for ticket details/discount). If you haven't seen Mystere, Zumanity or Ka yet (or want to see them again) Cirque is offering up to 35% off ticket prices through August 31, 2008! I would recommend Mystere for Cirque virgins; it is the quintessential Cirque show with technically difficult and amazing feats. For a different kind of Cirque show for adults only (over 18), go see Zumanity, performed in a smaller cabaret atmosphere with erotic overtones; my favorite act was the water ballet in a huge bowl. KA is grand spectacle with Chinese acrobats and fire; the kind of show that you would expect in Vegas. If you prefer the perfect water show, "O", or the Beatles music show, Love (my two favorite shows), there are no discounts, but both the Mirage and the Bellagio are offering dinner and show packages for the summer. Just call them at 877-274-6958 or go online to get your tickets with the promo code "AAASummer".

If you are going to get away to any island, how about planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii? Wanna play golf for $7? Ok, so it's only 9 holes, but where else can you find a price like that? The Kukuiolono Golf course is public and offers rates far below the average $150 a day to play at other courses on the island.

Maybe you prefer Maui in Hawaii. How about a free walking art tour in Maui? Just ask the concierge at the Four Seasons Resort Maui Wailea for a podcast or if you are there on Friday, sign up for the docent led tour.

If you want to FAR away and want to have your dollar go further than it does anywhere in Europe these days (who wants to pay $6 for an espresso?), how about going to Bali, Indonesia? Although there are beautiful beaches, the people of the island believe the mountains are sacred, so the heart of the island is in the center, in Ubud. This is an artists' enclave with gold and silver smiths, working among stone and wood carvers. As one of the friendliest and most spiritual places in the world, the best way to stay is at a family run place like the Rumah Roda Homestay. For only $12 per night (yes TWELVE dollars) you get a room in this beautiful family home with garden fresh vegetable meals (from their own garden), and walking distance to a temple. The best part of staying with a family is the family itself; they will explain and include you in their daily routines and temple rituals if you would like to learn about them. To truly know a place and culture, you must meet and get to know the people, so a homestay is the best of all worlds for immersion education.

Whether you go near or far, there are always ways to save your money while expanding your experience.