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I kind of like LA, so I won't call it an urban desert. We have a couple of favourite restaurants and we visited both of them to recover from the endless (fascinating) hours of interviews and sessions and conference food; you know it's bad when convention center fried chicken is the highlight of your culinary week. (PDC was a busy week for us and it hit all our interests, from end user to business IT to admin to development: we've been following identity and the modelling initiative formerly known as Oslo for a few years now and they're starting to come to fruition). So Thursday night we settled down for some more writing and a late night snack at Bottega Louie. The portion sizes vary wildly and the menu is organised by price, but the pizza is superb, the ravioli is small but perfectly formed, the eggplant parmigiana is tasty, the caponata is succulent and rich and the fried calamari is tentaculous.

We missed the brunch menu at Figaro on North Vermont thanks to late nights, missed phone calls and Avis running out of cars (more of which later) but lunch there is just as good. And when you add a croissant and a side of bacon to the mushroom spinach goats cheese omelette, you have brunch after all. The chocolate-bowl sized latte is fantastic there and it was fun to hear the (American) waiter discussing learning French at college by immersion with the American at the next table who'd lived in Paris; next table over was a couple practising French and at the far end was someone who was a) actually French and b) nowhere near as rude as the French woman who was there last time acting surprised when I asked her not to blow smoke over my food. The bookshop nearby will be worth a return visit too.

Having booked a compact, I was howling with laughter surprised when Simon came back with a great big powder-blue barge of a thing, with leather seats the full width of the car - like sofas with fold-down arms. It's a Crown Vic under all that frouffiness and you can feel the engine kick back in when you turn off the AC... It's nice for crusing around, so we promptly drove to Mission Viejo to look at the Microsoft Store and, er, buy a Zune HD, then down to Palm Springs for a nice weekend in the hot desert. This was slightly spoiled by finding I must have left my watch in the hotel room in LA (along with the charger for the electric toothbrush); the hotel can't find it but as it's not on my wrist, in my pocket or in any of my bags, either it fell down the back of something in the room or broke and fell off my wrist while we were out and about. Wah...

The Travelodge at Palm Springs looks almost as hip as ever, though you can tell more what was painted over rather than replaced. But it still has the wonderful huge hot pool that's nearly 5 foot deep, the corned beef hash at Sherwin's is still excellent (and goes very well with probably the best latke I've ever had) and the carnitas and margaritas at the Blue Coyote are yumita. Also, sun, good coffee at Koffi and a scenic drive in the Santa Rosa mountains enlivened by dozens of Porsches, many of them vintage, and a reflecting lake at sunset. Must take photos off the big camera.

We left Palm Springs and drove past Joshua Tree and into Arizona. Where shall we go, we asked ourselves? Well, the other Microsoft store is in Scottsdale... so we drove past lots of cacti and mountains, stopped for a pretty sunset, bypassed the sprawl of Phoenix and picked a motel on the outskirts of Scottsdale. It turned out to be next to a large mall where we had dinner at Modern Steak; where the food is good (especially the cramel ginger on my tuna poke) and the décor is straight out of Crate and Barrel. Also the kilt theme continues; after the Crooked Kilt in Paso and the Twisted Kilt in Palm Springs, the Kilt Lifter scottish ale from Four Peaks was excellent - very like the Traquair House ale. And that large mall - yes, it was the one with the Microsoft store... how did you guess?

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full steam ahead
marypcb
Mary Branscombe
Simon & Mary

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