I knew nothing of Zara until I went to Greece and everyone – EVERYONE – in Athens was walking around carrying a little blue bag from ZARA. On a whim we went inside and were blown away by the styles and fit of the clothes. My wife is a normal, fit woman with hips and broad shoulders and no implants. Therefore she has an impossible time finding clothing from many stores that actually fit. Not at Zara. Their models skew towards a more European shape than a west coast model, and therefore Zara isn’t for every woman. But if you’ve been annoyed at most of the fashionable stores because you feel somehow misshappen, give Zara a try. The same goes for menswear. I have no need to wear baggy anything. I look best when I wear something that fits. Because of genes and marathon running I have an athletic, long upper torso and average length but muscular legs. To make matters worse, I despise logos on my clothing and I like things to fit. I dress my age and have no need to compete with the myspace crowd. They’re fucking idiots, anyway. Nothing more pathetic than thirty year old men wearing Enyce pants and Sean John baggy Polo shirts. And they wonder why they’re still single hanging out at Hooters with their backwards baseball caps. Zara is my solution. Their shirts are cut to an athletic fit and their pants are actually pants, not just dresses stitched in the center. Best of all, Zara is incredibly well priced. Much better than other chains like Banana Republic or Anthropologie.

My experience of Triathlon Lab is a testament to the power of blogs and Web 2.0. I just completed my first season of triathlon, racing 5 events including Boise 70.3 and Santa Barbara Long Course. I started blogging at the beginning of the year, discussing my immersion in the field including training, product comparison, and my own personal growth. The triathlon community in Southern California is large for such an iconoclastic sport, but it’s still a tight-knit community of intelligent, opinionated people. Which is why it felt out of place that I had several bad experiences my first several times shopping at Triathlon Lab. I felt brushed off, ignored, and not taken seriously. Eventually I took it personally and blogged about my negative experiences. It came as quite a surprise that one of the owners personally reached out to me via Facebook (linked from my blog page), apologized for the way I was treated, and asked more details about my experience so she could address it as a customer service opportunity with her staff. I sent her a detailed report of my visits and spending experience, contrasted this to my positive experiences at Triathlete Zombies in Santa Monica, and thanked her for reaching out. That began a dialogue that has resulted in my purchase of a new 2008 Cervelo P3C triathlon bike. For those who don’t know, when you buy a bike you’re buying the shop as much as the bike itself. A good shop will do a proper fit, and then a follow-up fit to make sure the bike is right. Also, there is maintenance, tune-ups, and the never ending list of STUFF that gets added to the bike over time. The way the owner reached out, accepted responsibility, and then made up for the initial negative experience was enough to encourage me to forge this new relationship. The store is well stocked with a wide variety of gear, clothing, and staff. They have a considerably large bike shop and a solid spread of brands from entry-level and road all the way to pro level. I suggest talking to different staff members and finding someone you get along with and then coming back to them. Going in alone and browsing might not yield immediate gregariousness, but asking questions and getting to know the staff will make your experience better.

Yet another gem hidden inside a crappy looking strip mall Tamara’s Tamales is an orgiastic cornucopia. Hand made from scratch daily the sheer volume, variety, and quality of tamales is mind blowing. To be fair, we’re talking about three tablespoons of ingredients impregnated into a corn meal womb and wrapped in corn husk. But at any given time you can choose from dozens of different kinds, exotic or traditional, haute or cold, meat or vegetarian, even fat-free and dessert. You can grab a bucket for your husks and eat-in, get them to go, or order by the dozen and freeze them for later. The only down side is that they’re not cheap. Each tamale runs an average of $4, the king crab is $7.50! If you and a friend get a decent variety you’re in for at least a $30 meal.

(310) 305-7714, 13352 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

Hands down the best desserts in this city. Once there was Operetta, they were a 24 hour dessertery on 3rd. Then they closed under shady auspices and The Sweet Life opened in their place. They had an amazing banana cream pudding. They closed late in 2002. Now Sweet lady Jane has no competition. They do amazing cakes that are well worth the slightly pricey tag. They make cakes to order, decorated to order, and they also have a small, cozy coffee shop and cake per-slice counter inside. You will wait a long time for a table at night, since it’s no secret this place rules the earth with a sugary fist.

8360 Melrose Ave., 2 blocks east of La Cienega

Surfas bills itself as a chef’s paradise and it fulfills that promise beyond imagination. Surfas is a bounty of cooking supplies – every odd utensil you’ve ever needed, in an assortment of varieties that would make Christopher Kimball’s head spin. In fact, if you’ve ever wanted to actually see any of the tools Cook’s Illustrated spotlights in their “what is this” section, go to Surfas. If they don’t have it, they certainly know about it and can get it. It’s dangerous for me to enter because I can immediately justify a half dozen purchases. And since they’ve moved to a huge new location, just next door to their old one, and added a full cafe that hosts cheese tasting events on Sundays it’s a sure bet I’m leaving poorer and fatter for having visited. This is a must-visit destination for anyone in Los Angeles who enjoys cooking

(310) 559-4770, 8777 Washington Blvd, Culver City

When Russian immigrant women turn 40 they are apparently programmed to dye their hair bright orange and put on a sloppy pink slash of lipstick with war paint rouge. There are always a half dozen of these squat lovelies working at my favorite bakery, talking it up with the senior citizen customers, all of whom have yellow nicotine stains on their fingers and wear the cutest cardigan sweaters you’ve ever seen. But the greatest thing about a Russian bakery is that it explains the major ass whupping they got in Afghanistan: it’s all about the poppy seed. How can you dominate a country that so has your number? Poppy seed dessert rolls, poppy seed strudel, poppy seed cookies, and year-round hamentashen. They also do cream puffs, cookies, Turk cakes and the like. My perfect lunch consists of to-go sushi from Whole Foods capped with a poppy seed bear claw from those hot Russian ladies.

7875 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood

Sterling is the cleanest, most friendly, English speaking dry cleaners I’ve been to in the city thus far. However, their prices are high, their tailor is hit or miss, and sometimes you just want something cleaned inexpensively or hemmed right and you’ll take a certain amount of “what?” in your transaction to get it. While everything I’ve had cleaned by them has come out properly, the curtains I had them shorten came back uneven and they charged me almost $100 to do the hem and clean them in a machine. Whoa, nelly! They offer complimentary pickup and dropoff service and I’ve not had them lose anything.

(310) 287-2431, 3405 Overland Ave, Los Angeles

I used to be one fat fuck. The only reason I’d be caught dead in an REI was because I outgrew my pants and needed a tent. But things are different now. I bike, I swim, I run, and my wife is slowly, slowly introducing me to the idea of camping. Yes, camping. As a Jew, the idea of “camp” has never quite sat well with me. My people and “camping” didn’t quite work out last time around, no matter how hard we concentrated. I also see civilization as linear progress away from sleeping on floors and around animals. But by Gods, have you seen the Design Within Reach Airstream trailer? Tow-alongs that pop up into mansions! Thule cases that let you bring as much disinfectant as you want. REI sells pretty much everything you could want for any sport you might fancy. While they don’t drill down into super fine levels of sportiness like triathlon, you can still get supplies for individual sports that work well. They carry Pearl Izumi and Descente bike clothing, hiking gear, camping supplies, rock climbing, floating vests, even full sized Kayaks. They also stock enough flavors of Gu to keep your mind off how bad the stuff tastes. Personally, I’m a “chocolate outrage” guy, but only because the stuff is so thick with chocolate it’s like having Bill Duke cum in your mouth. *Ahem* If you buy enough sporty stuff I suggest joining their co-op which earns you dividends on purchases.

The thumping, olive oil lubricated heart of the Byzantine-Latino quarter of Los Angeles is Papa Cristos. Part restaurant, part import grocery, part wacky tourist trap, this is the place to go for an authentic Greek experience. That is to say, it’s authentic because all over Greece there are places like this that cater to the foreigner’s expectations of what Greece is like. In truth, you have to push past stores like this and enter the smaller towns and neighborhoods to find genuine Greek life, but it’s the garish front line stores that bring in the tourists and their Euros that make up the bulk of the Greek economy. Papa Cristos is very good food, albeit fairly predictable and muted in flavor and style. They were a stellar way to cater our housewarming party, with hummus, tzatziki, dolmades, and gryos. I was thrilled to have 7 lbs of leftover gyro to snack on for a week. The grocery stocks the best Greek honey, wonderful olive oils, and a variety of traditional Greek booze from retsina to ouzo to Metaxa. We’ve also done their “My Big Fat Greek Family Style Dinner”, which is wacky fun for an evening if you don’t mind getting friendly with the strangers sitting next to you at a long table and potentially being forced into public belly dancing. For some reason when we’re at a restaurant that has some sort of belly dancing entertainment, the woman always finds me. Somehow she knows my attitude towards public displays of dancing are like my attitude towards tattoos – go big or don’t bother. However, shaking my moneymaker while full on gyros is not my idea of fun.

(323) 737-2970, 2771 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles

The worst Mac store in all of creation
UPDATE: Mac Enthusiasts had their lawyer threaten me to edit my review. So I’m revising it, removing the parts they deemed libelous. I think it goes to prove that the store is so bad they’re willing to THREATEN TO SUE anyone who says something bad about them. Items removed are marked “redacted”. Mac Enthusiasts REDACTED should be avoided at all costs. A few years ago I purchased two DIMMs from Mac Enthusiasts. Shortly after I bought the DIMMs, they failed (redraw errors, application crashes and system freezes, culminating in a frozen startup process). Removal of the RAM instantly cured the problems and my system passed all hardware tests. I brought them back and they gave me two new DIMMs. They gave me two new *wrong* DIMMs. I brought my Mac to them and asked them to install the RAM since I did not have time to constantly fix their mistakes. They did, and a week later my computer showed major RAM failure again. I brought the machine back to Mac Enthusiasts and explained the history to a man named Mark REDACTED. Mark’s first comment was “more RAM magnifies existing problems”. I told him I had never, in over a decade of working on Macs, heard this and that was not an acceptable answer. He agreed to take my machine and remove the memory to see if the problem persisted. 45 minutes later a technician told me that they removed the RAM and my computer was still broken. I asked if they had booted from a CD-ROM, since having to reboot my computer 20 times due to bad RAM may have corrupted the boot software on the drive. The technician said he was not authorized to do this and handed the phone to Mark. Mark then proceeded to inform me that their RAM was fine and the problem must have been with my installation or otherwise my fault (based on my computer not booting after the removal of their RAM). I said that was impossible, and none of the evidence supported this. My machine worked fine for years until their RAM went in, at which point it started having catastrophic failure. In fact, the slots were not in question as I had replaced two 16mb DIMMs with their 64mb DIMMS. So far, consistently, when I removed their RAM, the machine hummed along. Mark again told me that I was blaming their RAM when there were lots of factors involved. I said that he was being evasive and difficult and the problem could be determined if he booted from the CD to determine if the issue was in the hardware. He refused to do this. He again attributed the problem to my lack of knowledge or other “unknown” factors. I explained that I worked Macintosh technical support in a retail computer store for five years, worked as a Macintosh systems administrator at a biotechnology company that was the sixteenth largest Macintosh company in the world, and then supervised system administrators in a predominantly Mac environment at a visual effects company. I’ve worked on thousands of computers, installed thousands of RAM modules, and diagnosed about every sort of Mac problem in hardware and software. This is also my personal machine, a computer I know inside and out. I know, for a fact, the problem is their RAM. I found it strange he was being defensive REDACTED. He could have simply tested my hardware by booting off a CD, finding that the machine booted he could then determine that he had sold me bad RAM again, and installed new RAM. I would have been a happy customer, he would have gained a tremendous amount of new business, and it would have cost him 1 hour of labor in the name of customer service. He refused. It got very heated the more he tried to deflect responsibility for selling bad RAM. We finally agreed for him to refund my money. I decided to give Mark one more chance. I said “what would you do in my situation? With all of the evidence pointing to the bad memory, what would you do?” Mark’s response was “I’d take the computer home and try and pinpoint the real problem.” This was too much. As Mark was typing up the return on the computer I couldn’t help but read his customer credo above him. “The customer is always right… It takes hundreds of hours to gain a customer and only a minute to lose one…Our customers are the reason we are in business…” I thought this was remarkably ironic. Mark requested that I not return to his store. I said that was fine with me, REDACTED. Ultimately, I got my money back and my computer returned to me. – although blood pressure and time high and gone. I took my machine home and connected it (with their RAM now removed). I inserted a bootable CD and my machine came up fine. It passed all hardware tests. I reinstalled my OS (because the constant reboots of a crashed computer damaged my OS) and then my computer worked flawlessly. I have been a Macintosh consultant for 13 years and would never, ever use Mac Enthusiasts.¬†Go somewhere else, for your own sake.

10600 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA