Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Urban Moms: Strollers in the City

Taking a quick break from our tour of LA here as I wanted to post a link to a great article from where the author, Faye Penn, "test-drove" nine of the latest strollers on the streets of New York. Urban moms have to factor in quite a few obstacles that suburban moms do not face when buying a stroller, especially when dealing with public transportation. I had to laugh at the Cons listed for the Bugaboo Cameleon:

"Cons: Awkward moments on stairs. On bus ride, hit a passenger in the head with seat and had to ask another rider to fish MetroCard out of pocket. On subway, actually accepted an assist from a pregnant woman."

Photo: Michael Schmelling from

Monday, January 28, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: Hotel Bel-Air

I'm usually one who prefers modern day conveniences and accommodations over places that rely on "character" as part of their allure. When looking for houses a few years ago, I had to stop my realtor who started off by showing us a lot of older homes with such "character" until I told her that I was from the suburbs of Southern California, home of the tract homes, where the only thing that separates your house from the other is the color paint you chose, and even then, it was easy to get confused sometimes. My one exception to this rule is the lovely Hotel Bel-Air tucked away in Stone Canyon in Los Angeles. The hotel is older, and you won't find the updated marble tubs in their standard suite bathrooms that you do in newer hotels, but just pulling up to the entrance and viewing the lush gardens makes you feel as if you've stepped into a different time period and after driving through traffic, there is an instant sense of serenity. A pot of tropical tea awaits you in your room after you've checked in. The hotel is also special to me as that is where my husband and I spent our wedding night right before departing for our honeymoon the following day and also where I had taken my then future mother-in-law for afternoon tea to have our first serious conversation together.

We've made it a tradition since then to try and go back for every anniversary. Now that we've kissed clubbing days goodbye, after dinner out on the town, we enjoy coming back to the very calm and adult piano lounge in the hotel where you can snack on mini-burgers and truffle fries in a dark library-like setting. The service is impeccable as evinced by the fact that we had mentioned we were celebrating our 5th anniversary there in conversation with our server, and at breakfast mind you, were served a mini-dessert complete with candle to honor the occasion. There are quite a few amenities like the famed Swan Lake and their swimming pool that the hotel is known for, but it's worth checking out their website to see all that can be experienced.

Photo 1: Hotel Bel-Air

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: In N'Out Burger

Okay, okay, I know that In N'Out now has locations in Nevada and Arizona as well as in Northern California, but the fact that it got its start in Baldwin Park, CA, renders it an LA favorite for me. Those familiar with the drive through menu recognize the simplicity of it: hamburger, cheeseburger, or a double double with shakes and sodas offered along with fries.

Many are also aware of the "secret menu," an off-menu list that prepares the basic three choices, fries, and shakes in a variety of combinations. I have only tried one item off the "secret menu," and that is the Protein-Style cheeseburger and double double. A former co-worker of mine who was really into the Atkins diet and weightlifting first clued me into this delish preparation. Basically, you can get any burger (regular hamburger, cheeseburger, or double double) sans bun, wrapped in iceberg lettuce. I pretty much now always order the double-double protein style with grilled onions (you must ask for grilled onions!) and justify my fries by the fact that I'm missing my starch in the bun. For you calorie-counters out there, I checked the nutritional facts on the In N'Out website and taking the bun off saves you a mere 70 calories. Now I think you've guessed by my previous entries that I'm not exactly an adherent to the Atkins diet (nor of any other diet in particular), but for those of you who are watching their carbs, the Protein-Style burger is a worthy indulgence.

The Secret Menu

For the basic "official" secret menu:

For an even more comprehensive secret menu taken from Wikipedia at

M by C
M meat patties and C slices of cheese (for example, a 3 by 3 or a 2 by 4)
Triple Meat
Three meat patties without cheese.
Animal Style
In addition to the usual condiments, mustard fried on the meat, pickles, extra spread and grilled onions are added.
Animal Style Fries
Fries with cheese, spread, and grilled onions.
Double Meat
Two meat patties without cheese.
Extra Everything
Adds extra spread, tomato, lettuce, and onions (regular or grilled).
Flying Dutchman
Two meat patties and two slices of melted cheese.
Extra Toast
Bun is cooked longer so it is extra toasted.
Fries "Light"
Almost raw fries that are cooked for less time.
Fries "Well"
Fries that are cooked longer to be extra crisp.
Fries with cheese
Fries with two slices of melted cheese placed on top.
Grilled Cheese
Two slices of melted cheese, tomato, lettuce and spread on a bun, with no meat. There is also a Grilled Cheese Animal Style (grilled onions are added).
Choco-Vanilla Swirl Shake
Chocolate and vanilla flavors combined in one shake.
Neapolitan Shake
All three shake flavors (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) combined in one shake.
Root Beer Float
Vanilla shake with root beer combined.
Protein Style
Instead of a bun, the burger is wrapped in lettuce. In addition to burgers, a protein style Grilled Cheese is available.
Veggie Sandwich
A sandwich without meat or cheese.
Extra packets of refrigerated Thousand Island dressing in packages marked "Spread".
Lemon up
1/2 lemonade 1/2 7-up. for locations

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: El Torito Grill's Guacamole

Southern California has some great Mexican food including some restaurants that serve very traditional Mexican cuisine. Although I know that the best places are traditionally holes in the wall, I head to an established chain when I want good guacamole. El Torito Grill is a favorite stop for me when I head back home. There is nothing more satisfying that plopping down in one of their booths after a day of shopping in or walking around Beverly Hills and waiting for their signature guacamole to be prepared tableside while downing an iced tea. I always order it extra spicy (still not zippy enough for me) and topped with cotija cheese. On recent visits, the flavor has not always been consistent, but it is always fresh and delicious and not overladen with garlic and raw onions which is what separates it from other guacamole. I tell my husband that I could simply subsist on their guacamole with fresh chips and the hot flour tortillas served with sweet whipped butter and fresh salsa; ordering an entree after gorging on the aforementioned two always seems more like an afterthought, but somehow I always have room for a few bites of their yummy sizzling Carne Asada.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Los Angeles Favorites: Michel Richard Patisserie

I lived in Los Angeles for the majority of my life, and many places that I grew up with have come and gone, with the exception of a few that have managed to survive the fickle preferences of Angelenos. Michel Richard's Patisserie on Robertson is one of them and even has employees who have been there for over 20 years. Michel Richard was a place my parents patronized for desserts for special occasions ever since we arrived in LA from NY in the late 70s. Even now when I go back home to visit, it is a given that after a shopping trip I'll be picking up four of their simple raspberry tarts with an almond flavored crust, along with a thick slice of their Country Black Pepper pate, a baguette, some apricot danishes, brioches, raspberry cheese mousses, and mocha eclairs. If I decide to stop by after shopping along Robertson, I'll order a warm salmon curry salad for lunch with a cup of their french onion soup. In recent years, many other patisseries have cropped up in LA, including Amandine that makes the most amazing strawberry shortcake, but stepping into Michel Richard reminds me of the 80s, my childhood, and a bite into one of their pastries makes me feel like I'm five again. You can't say that about too many places. Michel Richard: 310 S. Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.