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  • Quick Restaurant Reviews: Mozza2Go, Bottega Louie, Bouchon

    No Morning Coffee Post today, but here’s a roundup of some upscale restaurants in the LA area.

    Mozza 2 Go – The LA Times restaurant critic called it the best take out in town, and it certainly was delicious. Not quite as good as in the restaurant, but still excellent. My only gripe is that the hostess was a bit snotty, even after forgetting to give me one of our appetizers. She wasn’t very apologetic as she agreed to credit my card because I didn’t want to return for the item they left out. Funny how you start to get immune to bad service, though – we’ve had issues in the past with restaurants refusing to credit a card for an omitted item, so I was simply relieved at the time that I didn’t have to fight for what’s right. And although we haven’t been impressed by the desserts in the Pizzeria, the Butterscotch Budino gave us a whole new perspective on butterscotch. (I just realized that they never issued the credit . . . grrr!)

    Bottega Louie – I’ve been wanting to go to Bottega Louie for months and we finally made it earlier last month for lunch. The food was fantastic, as I expected it would be. The service was spotty at times, but considering the upscale feel and relatively downscale prices, I was more than satisfied. The entrees were on the small side, so it was surprising that the chocolate soufflé cake was so big. But I think it’s supposed to serve 2, which it certainly did – though it could have used a little more vanilla bean sauce.

    Bouchon Beverly Hills
    – One nice thing about Beverly Hills: Unlike the rest of Los Angeles, you can easily find free public parking. And famed chef Thomas Keller’s newest restaurant, Bouchon in Beverly Hills, sits right on top of a free public parking structure. (You can also valet your car. But wouldn’t you rather spend the money on dessert?)

    I was quite excited about our lunch date at Bouchon, and had made the reservations a month in advance. I’ve begun to read Ad Hoc at Home,which was one of my holiday gifts, and Carol Blymire’s first blog, French Laundry at Home, has made me familiar with Keller’s food. So I had high expectations. And they were met. The food combinations are unexpected, but work well together – like the crab crepe, which contained a filling of crab, marscapone, tiny chopped carrots, and was garnished with pink pickled onions. As a general rule, I hate onions. But I ate every piece of onion that was served to me at Bouchon. The cutting board of charcuterie came adorned with a line of pickled vegetables – adorable florets of cauliflower, tiny carrots and whole sweet pickles, radish, and more. I’m actually considering learning how to pickle.

    The only disappointment – and it wasn’t really a disappointment, my expectations were just so high – was the bread and the dessert. The bread, because it wasn’t anything special – the artisan bread I’ve been baking is just as good. And the dessert, because I ordered the restaurant’s signature bouchons – little chocolate cakes that were just that – little chocolate cakes that were like brownies with a crunchy topping, nothing very special.

    Overall, though, the food was good enough to make me put Bouchon on a very short list of fine dining restaurants I’d happily go back to again. (Pizzeria Mozza and Lawry’s being the only other ones.)

    Review: ING Direct

    I know I was waaay late opening an account with online bank ING Direct. In the world of high rate savings accounts, the best rates are almost invariably online, yet I avoided opening such an account because Marc and I didn’t want to complicate our finances.

    What changed our mind last year was the financial instability of several major brick and mortar banks. Suddenly, diversifying our accounts seemed more important than being able to track them in the easiest way possible. After all, even though our accounts were all FDIC-insured, we didn’t want to be in the position of not having access to enough money to pay a month’s worth of bills. It didn’t seem likely to happen, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

    A friend happened to ask for an Ebates referral and mention her ING Direct account in the same conversation. So we traded referrals: she signed up for Ebates through the link in the email I sent her, and we both got a bonus. And I opened an ING Direct Orange Savings account through the link in the email she sent to me, and we each got another bonus.

    I have to say, though, that after reading all of the positive reviews about ING Direct on just about every personal finance blog, that I thought ING Direct would be easier to use. For instance, one of the reasons I was happy to have an ING Direct account was that I knew it was possible to set up “subaccounts” – an easy way to keep track of money intended for a specific purpose. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it just by looking at the web site – I actually had to do a search for instructions (I found good ones at I’ve Paid for This Twice Already and Five Cent Nickel).

    I also opened an Electric Orange checking account in November, when there was a bonus of $50 for new accounts when you used your debit card for three signature-based transactions. The best part of the checking account turned out to be that debit card – it’s a Mastercard, so I was thrilled to have it when I needed a Mastercard to take advantage of a special promotion at CVS.com in December.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t go out of my way to open these accounts – especially with interest rates plummeting as they have over the last few weeks. The rate on the Orange Savings account is just 2.2% – better than most brick and mortar banks, and better than my credit unions too. But you can get 2.6% at FNBO, so there are still better rates out there. The rate on the Electric Orange account is a mere 0.5% – better than nothing, which is what I get for my brick and mortar checking, but I hardly keep any money in my checking accounts anyway. (They do offer up to 2.5% for higher balances, but who keeps more than $100,000 in a checking account?!)

    But overall, I’m very happy with our ING accounts. The $25 bonus I got for opening the savings account through my friend’s referral link more than makes up for any interest I’m losing by not moving to a bank like FNBO. We’ve accomplished our mission of diversifying our emergency fund, and I’ve created a subaccount to hold the money that I’d originally intended to send toward my student loans. When there’s enough in the subaccount to pay off my loans in full, I’ll send in one large balloon payment unless things have changed between now and then. And I now have a Mastercard, which allows me to take advantage of certain shopping deals.

    Note: I’m not an ING affiliate, and I have no relationship with FNBO. If you’d like to learn more about Ebates, read my original review.

    Update to Graco Nautilus Review

    As you might recall, we were rear-ended back in November and needed to get new car seats. I first tried the Sunshine Radian and hated it because I couldn’t get it to fit right.

    I ended up with two Graco Nautilus seats, which I liked. But after less than one month, the belt on one of the Nautilus seats began to fray – and since it was the belt that you pull to tighten the harness, it would get stuck and the belt would be impossible to tighten or loosen. In other words, the seat became unusable. (See photo.)

    If this had been my only Nautilus seat, or if the problem had happened with both seats, I probably would have demanded a full refund from Graco so that I could go purchase a Britax Regent.

    But since the other Nautilus has been fine, I was willing to give Graco the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem was unique to the car seat that we’d bought. I contacted them through their web site, explained the problem, offered to send photos, and asked for a replacement seat. The next day, I received a response requesting the photos. The day after I sent the photos, I received an email stating that the replacement parts had been sent.

    Since I had asked for a new seat, I wasn’t exactly sure what “parts” to expect. But I’d forgotten that the Nautilus isn’t just a car seat, it’s convertible to a booster. So what arrived was the booster part of the seat, and all I had to do was remove the back from the old booster seat and attach it to the new one. I just followed the instructions that were in the manual. It took me less than 30 minutes to remove the seat from the car, replace the booster, and reinstall the seat. Not bad.

    While I was less than pleased to have the frayed belt problem in the first place, I must say that Graco’s customer service handled the problem exactly as I would have hoped. And while I don’t love the Nautilus the way I love the Marathon, it’s almost as easy to install and use. So if you’re looking for a five-point harness seat that looks like a high back booster, I continue to recommend the Nautilus as a more affordable option than the Regent (though I look forward to personally trying out the Regent at some point).

    Review: Graco Nautilus

    In case you haven’t been following my little saga, here’s a quick summary: The week before Thanksgiving, we were rear-ended – thankfully, everyone was all right, but the car was pretty badly damaged. It’s been in the shop for repairs, and in the meantime, I spent some time trying to decide what new car seats to get. I eventually settled on the Sunshine Radian65, a convertible seat that looks a lot like a booster.

    When we last left off, I had returned the Radians because they wouldn’t install correctly in our Nissan Altima, and purchased a Graco Nautilus.

    The Graco Nautilus (pictured) is billed as a three-in-one car seat. It starts off as a forward-facing 5-point harness car seat for children between 20 and 65 pounds. Then it converts to a high-back belt positioning booster for children between 30 and 100 pounds. Finally, it becomes a backless booster for children between 40 and 100 pounds.

    We’ve been using the Nautilus for over a week now and been quite satisfied with it. It was easy to install with LATCH, and I’m happy with how secure it is (no comparison with the Radian). There are little compartments in the armrests that can hold toys, and there’s also a cup holder, which all make the chair seem like it’s for an older child – so our 3.5-year-old loves it, of course. The buckles and belts are typical Graco, so they’re not as easy or comfortable to use as a Britax, but they are perfectly acceptable.

    I was a little concerned about the recessed red handles on the bottom of the headrest (you can see one in the picture) – it seemed like they could cause injury in the event of an accident. But they really are recessed, and Marc convinced me that the seat wouldn’t be sold this way if they posed any kind of danger.

    We’ve decided that we’re keeping the Nautilus for sure. I am still thinking of buying a Britax Regent for when we get the other car back, but we’ll probably just get another Nautilus. Then again, I’ve changed my mind so many times in the last few weeks that who knows what we’ll finally end up with?

    Read an update to this post (1/30/09).

    Image credit: Amazon.com,where you can get the Nautilus for $134.96 with free shipping.

    Review: EliteCarSeats.com gets a thumbs down

    See the end of this review for an update.

    I really wanted to like EliteCarSeats.com. In fact, I expected to. Their prices were good, the web site was easy to navigate, they responded to the email I sent to their on-staff certified technicians about the Sunshine Radian, Sally from the company has commented here on my posts about the Radian, and they offer $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I was so sure that I would like them that I was even looking forward to signing up as an affiliate once everything was settled with our new car seats. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    At first, everything seemed to be going fine. I bought two Sunshine Radian65s from them a couple of weeks ago, and I happily paid the extra dollar for Return Shipping Insurance. I have no complaints about that transaction – at least, not yet. Hopefully, my refund will processed without a problem next week. (I’ll update this post at that time.)

    But everything went downhill with my second transaction. Because I had to send the Radians back, I ordered two Britax Regents – again from EliteCarSeats.com, and again with $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I ordered on Sunday, and on Tuesday, I received a call saying they’d canceled my order because the color I selected was out of stock and for whatever reason, the computer didn’t reflect that. Okay, these things happen. But when I asked if they’d upgrade my order to expedited shipping if I placed another order for a different color, my request was refused.

    That means I won’t be doing business with EliteCarSeats.com anymore, and I can’t recommend them to you. It’s terrible customer service to make a mistake and not offer anything to the customer to make up for it. And even if I’d been inclined to brush off the error, I can’t wait an extra three days for the new seats, which is why I asked for the upgraded shipping. The EliteCarSeats web site says free shipping to where I live takes four to five days, which would have the Regents arriving early next week. The car is supposed to be fixed by then (fingers crossed), so I can’t wait that long. (And I’m not paying for shipping – since it’s calculated by weight, any savings from ordering online would be negated by the shipping costs.)

    So all of this also means that I’m very grateful to Camille, Quirky Mama, and easytocheck, who left comments praising the Graco Nautilus. We bought one at Target last night and will try installing it later today. I’ll let you know how that goes!

    By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t just pick up a Regent at Target, they only sell it online. And Babies R Us and Toys R Us are considerably further away than Target, especially in rush hour traffic. If the Nautilus doesn’t work out for some reason, I will probably throw in the towel and pick up two Marathons.

    Update: I got my refund for the Radians without a problem. There’s also an explanation from EliteCarSeats.com in the comments that expedited shipping simply would have cost them too much. I’m sure that’s true, but they’ve still lost my business forever since I no longer trust their their web site or customer service not to leave me hanging and costing me more money.

    In the situation above, I could have ordered Regents from Amazon and paid the same price that I paid EliteCarSeats.com. Because of the time constraints, by the time EliteCarSeats.com canceled my order, I could no long buy the car seats online. Buying Regents at the store would have cost an extra $50 apiece. Because I had to buy the Nautilus at Target, I ended up paying an extra $40 apiece. Fortunately, our car insurance covered the cost of the new car seats because the replacement was necessary due to an accident, but that hopefully won’t be the case the next time we have to buy new car seats. And I won’t give EliteCarSeats.com the chance to put me in a bad spot again.