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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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.




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