Thursday, September 21, 2006

Passing Gas: Find Cheap Gas Near Where You Live

Just what is says: Find Cheap Gas Near Where You Live.

Although gas has finally hit the $2-something mark for the first time in months, it's always nice to find a good cheap gas deal. My friend passed along this site to me, and in the interests of spreading the cheap(er) gas love, I'm passing it along to you.

It's pretty self-explanatory, just sign up (you don't get spam for signing up) and receive a daily email with the most updated gas prices around your area, or for the casual gas-price browser who doesn't want extra daily emails, there's

With the pennies saved, you don't need to feel guilty using excess energy by driving with both your AC on and your windows down. ahh, such a guilty pleasure.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

More Free Wi-Fi'ing from My Laptop-Lovin' L.A. Travels

My current obsession--surpassing even my love for chocolate souffles and my many repeated listenings Carli Bruni's "Quelqu'un M'a Dit" album from 3yrs ago (check it, it's good)--is finding free internet access around town for me and my traveling laptop. As a freelance writer, I like to think of my home office as HQ and these various coffee shops as my multiple satellite offices. Besides, who wants to drive home just to check email?

Although I am still a regular at several of these free wi-fi offering coffee shops which I highlighted in an earlier blog (esp. Venice Grind, which has fixed their Mac connection problems and Coral Tree Cafe--more for their food--although, be warned, they turn off their web access during peak lunch hours between 11am-3pm), I've slowly added several more to my rotation in my laptop travels around L.A.

My most recent discovery (and where I am writing this free wi-fi roundup right now, pic. above) is the snazzed up Santa Monica Library's BOOKMARK CAFE. I actually was there to check out some books when I noticed a smattering of laptop-users typing in the sun at the outdoor courtyard cafe. (The library's cafe also has a couple of indoor tables for those who need access to a power outlet.) In addition to fancy sandwiches, salads and wraps (eg. I ordered a tasty grilled turkey wrap with sundried tomato, artichokes and provolone) which hover around $7.50, the cafe also has ice-cream and smoothies. Underground parking is $1/hr. The revamped library also has one hour free internet computers upstairs, one of the best selections of new and random books in the L.A. public library system and a high-tech key-card for borrowers to self check out books with one easy swipe.

Another on the Westside is ROSE CAFE on Rose and Main, the actual cafe doesn't have internet access but if you sit in the coffee shop portion of the bakery and cafe by the in-store boutique, you can risk docking off a few good karma points and pick up the free wi-fi from Radha Govinda Hare Krishna temple across the road. Since Rose Cafe is technically a restaurant, they have good (poached salmon florentine, thai noodle salad, pesto chicken sandwiches, cakes!), but slightly pricier brunch and lunch options (salads/sandwiches/hot meals around $8+). The cafe closes at 5pm so you'll have to move on elsewhere if you're working overtime hours.

When I'm in the Hollywood area, my hands-down favorite is GROUNDWORK COFFEE on Cahuenga and Sunset. The spot is home home to plentiful table and bench seating, corner windows facing Amoeba and the Arclight for quality people-watching work breaks, strong tea and coffee drink selection, friendly and honest servers that'll tell you they personally think the chocolate chip tofu muffin is gross and exchangeable if I also find it gross (I actually didn't mind it) and at least 5 other mac users furiously typing at any given time so you don't feel like you're the only one milking an ice blended mocha for 3hrs for their free wi-fi. Parking is the only drawback, but if you're doing 2hr stints, Sunset metered parking is doable, otherwise some random spots on DeLongpre and Wilcox before you enter permit parking land.

KUNG PAO KITTY a couple blocks up on Hollywood & Wilcox also has free wi-fi but the one time I brought my laptop in for an emailing session over seasame chicken, it felt odd to be working away in a chinese takeout spot.

If you're on the Eastside and need a quick email check on-the-go, the parking lot of the Gower Gulch strip mall (Sunset & Gower) is also good for a quick log-on in your car. I haven't figured out where the free intenet comes from since I parked right in front of the Starbucks and they make their patron's pay through AT&T wireless.

Here are a few others that offer free wi-fi. Personally, for some reason, I haven't been able to get into the productive mindset at these spots (I've had to leave most of these spots after logging in a couple hours of surfing the web and zero hours of productive work ) but they might work for others so here they are: VELOCITY CAFE (Venice), TANNER'S COFFEE (Playa del Rey), STROH'S GOURMET DELI (Venice), RUMOR MILL CAFE (Culver City), Ciao Coffee & Tea Company (Sherman Oaks).

BOOKMARK CAFE @ Santa Monica Library
601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310/587-2665

220 Rose Ave, Venice, 310/399.0711

1501 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, 323/871-0107

6445 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 323/465-0110

Sunday, September 10, 2006

8 Mile West L.A. Style: MC Battle at 33Third

I've apparently been driving past a piece of Detroit many times along Pico Blvd without realizing it. Last Saturday night, I accepted Chaya’s invite to check out a “DJ-off” that her friend was hosting. Because it sounded like a refreshing change from a typical bar-hopping night--but mainly because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into--we decided to hit up 33Third (the venue) on Pico & La Brea to check out the event.

I was imagining some grungy lounge filled with breakdance-capable clubgoers set up with two rival DJ’s alternating between scratching their vinyls on their turntables and then crossing their arms and daring his challenger with a "top that!" cock of an eyebrow.

Maybe we should have read the flyer properly, 33Thirdwas a vinyl store (with a great selection of bargain records by the way) not a bar, so besides the bottles of whiskey being questionably passed around and chugged by the crowd, there was no alcohol. And it wasn’t a DJ-Off but an amateur MC Battle, a la 8 Mile, which is essentially contestants insulting each other to a rap beat.

The crowd was initially intimating enough for us to consider bolting, and we definitely stood out (about 5 other girls total and none were dressed in heels and cleavagey tops like Chaya, Nikki and I, as opposed to the popular sideways cap and wifebeater look going on that night) but the guy manning the door was surprisingly friendly (“are you girls entering the contest tonight? We need more female MC contestants” without any trace of the deserved sarcasm in that question.)

Chaya’s friend/owner of the store pulled us up to the VIP area by the judges so we got a prime viewing spot of the mouthy battle. The Eminem for the night was actually a female. Lady DJ endured multiple harsh personal insults from her fellow male contestants—“I’m going to buy you a glass of milk/watch you drink it and watch your breasts grow” was a memorable line courtesy of DJ Shoe”—only to unleash a tirade of clever put-downs with double the ferocity. We didn’t stay till the end to see if she got crowned but she was the judges clear favorite when we left our brush with 8 Mile and headed to the Dime for some chill, post-MC Battle vodka tonics.

5111 West Pico Blvd., 3 blocks W of La Brea

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Museum-Hopping for $0: LACMA & MOCA's Free Museum Hours

I like the idea of going to museums. But honestly, I can only take my cultural excursions in small doses (1 1/2hrs tops). And although I'm all for supporting the arts, if I'm only going to be there for less than two hours and my schedule permits it, why not nurture my artistic side at no extra cost by visiting the museum during their freebie hours?

My whirlwind brush with zero-cost culture included trips to both the MOCA and LACMA within one week. An out of town guest wanted to check out downtown MOCA's Rauschenberg: Combines exhibit (which just ended on Sept. 4th). The MOCA keeps kinda weird hours (closed Tues. and Wed.) but if you head there on Thursday nights, it's free after 5pm (and open til 8pm). The downside is parking; street parking is next to impossible so the museum recommends parking at the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking garage on Lower Grand Ave ($8 for 3hrs with vaildation) but if you're willing to walk a block, there's a no-hassle lot on the corner of 2nd/Olive for $6 flat.

To the untrained eye (mine), Rauschenberg: Combine's exhibit was all about, uh, combining as much stuff onto the canvas as possible. His collages with pants, taxidermied bald eagles and pieces of wire glued onto large canvases and all slicked thick with oil paints wasn't really my thing but the MOCA's permanent collection including pieces by Jackson Pollack (below), Roy Lichtenstein and whoever convinced the artsy types that blank canvases were high-brow (also below) are worth checking out on their own regardless of the headlining temporary exhibit going on at the time.

A few days later, I visited the LACMA on Labor Day (which is free after 5pm every day). We skipped the David Hockney portraits exhibit (which has a separate un-free admission fee) and headed to LACMA's permanent collection. The Ahmanson Building houses classical art (Rembrandt, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin) as well as ancient Egyptian tomb artifacts, hundreds-old European vases and the like.

The Modern and Contemporary Art building contains colorful works by Picasso, Pollack, Ruscha, DuChamp and Magritte--as well as a beautiful 3rd story balcony view of the sunset over the Hollywood hills.

However, the highlight was the Consider This... Exhibit in the LACMA West building (yes, it's technically LACMA's 'children's museum' but the highly interactive, highly thought-provoking exhibit was highly entertaining for all ages). Designed by artist Barbara Kruger (famous for her artistic slogans juxtaposed against provocative images) the exhibit--which runs through January '07--includes pithy quotes lining the walls ('Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy'-Henry Mencken, 'How Much Easier is Self-Sacrifice than Self-Realization!'-Eric Hoffer) and installations with sharpies inviting visitors to become part of the exhibit by adding their mark on certain art pieces or adding to the wall of anwers to questions such as "what is important to you right now?".

With easy street parking and convenient, late-night free hours, it's definitely worth popping into LACMA after work hours to check out the exhibits or even just to enjoy the peaceful dusky sunset views from the museum balcony.

free Thursdays after 5pm
free everyday after 5pm
Natural History Museum
free first Tuesdays of the month
always free

For those who have more specialized artistic interests, the following niche museums are participating in National Museum Day on September 30th, offering free admission all day:
California Science Center, Craft and Folk Museum, Museum of Neon Art and last but certainly not the least, The Bunny Museum.

Friday, September 01, 2006

coco noche: Getting buzzed off chocolate and wine

I like wine bars (Bodega deCordova), they're even better when you add tapas (La Tasca). but when you throw in gourmet chocolates and caramel wine pairings, now you're talking.

coco noche's decadent-sounding sign caught my eye even before this new chocolate, wine and tapas bar in downtown Manhattan Beach opened. coco noche. chocolate nights. Chocolate at night time with alcohol. I'm in.

Chrissy and I made a visit to this perfect-sounding spot last night. The intimate little choco-wine bar is unpretentious (warm and simple cream and wood decor, friendly accommodating servers, a touch too-bright lighting) with unpretentious prices (you can eat and drink well for easily under $30)

The menu lists the chocolate and desserts first, with the tapas on the following page. As ladies who have often planned our entree and appetizer choices around dessert ("we could get the pomegranate-glazed lamb but is that going to be pomegranate overload since we're for sure ordering their yummy sounding pomegranate and creme anglais parfait?"), we liked how this place thinks.

Although we both wanted to follow the menu and skip straight to the sweet stuff, we ordered a couple dinner items first. The tapas are not of the spanish kind but have more of a korean &/or cafe flavor. Sounds odd but works, especially since several of the chocolates are flavored with an Asian influence. We shared the basil chicken salad (with a refreshing cucumber and mint yogurt rather than mayo) on a toasted croissant with an Asian side salad ($9) and the specialty bul-gogi korean seasoned beef lettuce wraps with sticky rice ($12). Both were good, but really, it's all about the chocolate here.

The chocolate morsels are courtesy of exotic chocolatier, Vosges Haute Chocolate. They have two sets of tasting flights with 3 chocolates and 3 wines. With choices such as RED FIRE: dark chocolate spiced with chipotle chili peppers and Ceylon cinnamon, BLACK PEARL: chocolate flecked with ginger, wasabi and black sesame and GOJI BERRY: Tibetan sweet berries and pink Himalayan salt embedded chocolate, we had trouble trying to figure out which set of three we wanted. Our accommodating waiter helped ease the decision-making pain by giving us a couple of samples and letting us mix and match whichever three chocolates and wines we wanted. You can also get desserts by the piece and those ordering their alcohol a la carte will find an extensive selection of affordable (most $9 or under) by-the-glass options as well as specialty beers including the delicious raspberry Frambois beer.

We picked the first, sweeter, flight of wines (Ravenswood Zinfandel, Riesling and cream Sherry) over the heartier Coppola Pinot Noir, Santa Rosa Merlot and Banfi dessert wine and picked the Red Fire (the spicy chocolate was our favorite), Black Pearl and Barcelona (hickory-smoked almonds with fleur del sey gray sea salt). They also had chocolate caramels infused with flavors such as orange and ginger but since sticky caramels are a no-no for my still slightly ailing wisdom teeth, we also ordered their so-airily-light-it-must-be-zero-calories Key Lime torte with white and milk chocolate instead.

Only open for seven days so far, coco noche's menu, decor and specials are still evolving but they are working with a sweet concept; getting patrons buzzed off both sugar and drinks--two things I love, so me, my ID and my sweet tooth are looking forward to future, chocolate-coated drunken nights.

coco noche
1140 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach