Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve Eve at Chan Dara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Travel Accessories for 007

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hucklebrry Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

Huckleberry on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 18, 2009

Santa Monica Pub Crawl & Hollywood Free Food

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shop & Eat Free Food

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fabulous Sodas & Free Socks

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Food Forward

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loews Coronado for $109

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brooks Brothers 40% off Today

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

San Pedro Cafe & Deli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Pedro Cafe & Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

$50 Runway Dress $500 Glass Shoe

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Global Gift Cards

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Free $100 Meal at New Aria Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Comme Ca Repeal Week-End

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Best Parking Rates & Parking your Tweets Permanently

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sashi Sushi + Sake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Peacekeeper Cause-Metics

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

San Francisco Hotel Sale

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

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

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

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