Archive for the ‘Critique’ category

The best hidden secret in Watertown’s Arsenal Mall…

September 5, 2011

…is definitely Coffee Traders, a family-owned coffee and wrap/sandwich/salad business. Every time I go to the mall or am in the vicinity of the mall, I stop there for a mozzarella and basil wrap.

The mozzarella and basil are always super-fresh, and so are the tomatoes that are also included in the soft pita. I like how the pita is nice and thin, so you don’t feel too full after eating it. You can have them add whatever sauce you’d like (including ranch and blue cheese), but I always go for their staple sauce: olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfecto. Today I introduced my sister to this hidden gem.

I got my usual mozzarella and basil wrap:

And she got a buffalo chicken salad:

She got her salad with ranch dressing (and buffalo sauce of course), and loved it. According to her, it was nice having grilled chicken instead of the usual fried chicken. She felt nice and healthy, which is a big reason why I love this little joint. It’s definitely much healthier than the other eateries in this food court (including Regina Pizzeria, a Mexican place and Burger King). She also liked how the buffalo sauce was less spicy than what she’s accustomed to.

If you can, try to support this business! It’s nice knowing the money goes to a family versus a big corporation. And they have ice cream and a wide variety of coffee drinks.

My first BzzAgent review: about.me

May 23, 2011

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently started working as a copywriter for a social marketing company called BzzAgent. Also known as a word-of-mouth marketing company, BzzAgent enlists hundreds of thousands of “agents” to discuss brands and products (L’Oreal, Michelin, and Unilever are just a few of its clients).

The agents receive free products, free services, and discounts. I signed up to be an agent (also called a “BzzAgent”) to see what’s it’s all about (you can do so as well). After filling out some surveys, I was invited to the “about.me” campaign. About.me lets you put multiple online profiles (including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Flickr profiles) in one place.

I created an about.me page at about.me/christinelaubenstein. You decide which profiles and/or links you want to include on your page. I added my Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, and Tumblr accounts (granting about.me access to my posts, updates, videos, etc.), but I declined to allow access to my Facebook info (including profile information, status updates, and friends’ photos).

For me, my Facebook page is a relatively private space I don’t want strangers to see. I did, however, opt to add a link to my Facebook page (in case someone wants to friend me). You can link to other pages if you’d like, or add other profiles (Blogger, Posterous, Flickr, TypePad, Formspring, Last.fm, Daily Booth, and Instagram).

You can also personalize your background, font colors, fonts, and biography. Other features include statistics about your accounts and about.me page, ideas for promoting your about.me page, and a place to add your favorite about.me pages. I haven’t yet used all these features, but I’ll still provide my initial thoughts about about.me:

  • It’s a neat idea. Unless you have your own website/blog, I don’t know of any service that lets you list such a wide variety of profiles (LinkedIn, for example, just has fields for three websites, your Twitter account, and your IM screen names). Not to mention the other services don’t let you see content from all your accounts.
  • I like how you can personalize your page.
  • It’s good from an SEO standpoint. You can use about.me to submit your about.me page to Bing, Google, and Yahoo. I did this about two weeks ago, and at least for Google my about.me page already appears on the second page of search results when my name is queried. So creating an about.me page can help push down negative links (if you have them, of course).
  • I’m not sure sure how much time I’ll devote to my page. I have a personal blog and professional website that already allow me to add my Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. info. So if I have these sites I’ve already invested in, why do I need about.me? I guess I could use about.me to have all my content in one place. But at this point, I don’t see a huge benefit. Clicking on a link to access my content (at its source) takes one second.

Scholars Bistro in Boston has good food and service

May 2, 2011

At least that was my experience on Saturday evening with a bunch of friends. Scholars American Bistro and Cocktail Lounge just recently opened at 25 School St. in Boston near the Park Street T stop. Their wine is a little pricey (you can’t get a glass for less than $7), but I suppose that’s often the case in downtown Boston.

They have some unusual items on their menu, which I appreciated. Those dishes include rabbit fritters, braised beef tongue sliders, lasagna cupcakes, apple cider pork belly, and prosciutto pizza. I didn’t have the biggest appetite, so I just went with the mussels appetizer.

My mussels

From my experience, it’s kinda hard to screw mussels up. But the smoked salt, tarragon, and roasted tomato sauce made the meal tastier than your average mussels plate. Plus, they provide plenty of bread to dip in the sauce. My fiance had Tuscan flatbread pizza, which included sun-dried tomato, pesto, goat cheese, and red sauce.

My fiance's Tuscan flatbread pizza

He was quite a fan. Another friend of ours, who adores hummus, ordered the Za’atar flatbread pizza. That one’s made up of pine nuts, goats cheese, hummus, and labneh (Middle Eastern yogurt cheese). For an appetizer, another friend ordered some raw oysters. She let me have one, which is always a ton of fun.

Me slurping down the oyster

While staff didn’t seem 100 percent sure of the menu (that’s understandable as the restaurant just opened), they were nonetheless attentive. At one point, there were three waitresses serving us drinks and asking how things were going. When we first arrived (around 6 p.m.), we were practically the only diners in the whole place. But around 8 p.m. or so, things started picking up.

I think this would be a neat place to go for an after-dinner drink or two. Upstairs there’s a billiards room, comfy chairs, and dim lighting. It’s the perfect environment for enjoying one of their many creative cocktails. Beer fans will be glad to know they have 15-plus brews on tap. I will surely return to this awesome restaurant/bistro/lounge!

I saw The King’s Speech last night

April 1, 2011

I only have a minute, so I’ll just provide my initial thoughts. The King’s Speech was a great movie but I don’t think it should have won the best-picture Oscar this year. The story was too simple/predictable.

What I liked:

  • The acting. Colin Firth exhibited an amazing fake stutter (he played the king), and Helen Bonham Carter charmed as the supportive wife (she’s always good, though). Geoffrey Rush played the king’s speech therapist; I really appreciated his believable portrayal of such an intriguing character (the speech therapist is real tough on the king while having lots of faith in him).
  • That the movie is based on a true story. I had been unaware that King George VI had a severe speech impediment and that he only became king because his older brother, Edward VIII, had to abdicate the throne (for proposing marriage to a divorced American socialite). Edward VIII only ruled for 11 months, making his reign the second-shortest in English history.
  • The music. The renowned Alexandre Desplat composed the majority of the film’s music, and let me say it stays with you (in a good way). I’ve had the lighthearted piano theme song in my head all day.
  • The cinematography. They are some great shots in this movie. For example, when the king and his speech therapist are walking through the fog-filled park, or when the speech therapist is making his way down the lengthy main aisle of the Westminster Abbey.

What I didn’t like:

  • Much of the story is very predictable. I guess it’s the nature of this type of movie, but you pretty much know that the king’s speech is going to be improved. I guess the mystery, though, lies in how he’s going to get there; not the end result.
  • Some of the characters are too vanilla. With the exception of the speech therapist, I felt like the characters were pretty one-dimensional. For example, some were portrayed as highly immoral while others where depicted as extremely upstanding citizens. I don’t think this is the fault of the actors, but rather the screenwriters. Then again, maybe back then things were more black and white.

Cabot’s in Newton: Yummy food, sort-of-pushy waitress

January 10, 2011

Two friends and I at Cabot's

I went to Cabot’s in Newton for brunch on Sunday. I had never been there before, and heard great things about their homemade ice cream. Well I didn’t get ice cream because it was the morning. Instead I ordered eggs, wheat toast, and grapefruit. Everything was good (though it seems hard to mess up these things), especially the fruit (very fresh). I enjoyed the coffee as well. I only have two complaints about the joint:

  • Our waitress was a little pushy about us ordering. (We were waiting for a friend, and she even said “If it starts getting crowded you might have to leave.”)
  • The bathrooms aren’t too clean, and you have to go up a sketchy staircase to get to them.

Do not buy these empanadas

October 28, 2010

You are supposed to keep these Goya empanadas frozen until you’re ready to cook them. Then you’re supposed to start cooking them in a pan covered in oil (according to the directions). The problem with this is that the empanadas are stuck together with pieces of paper between them.

There's a piece of paper in between these two frozen empanadas.

Because they’re frozen you can’t break the empanadas apart. I tried to separate them by putting them under hot water, but that made them all gross. You aren’t supposed to thaw them so I started cooking them with the paper in the middle. Minutes passed and the empanadas still couldn’t be broken apart. I didn’t think it was a good idea to keep cooking paper so I stopped. I then threw the empanadas in the garbage.

Goya empanadas in the garbage

I am now hunting for a better brand of frozen empanadas.

Kelly’s Diner in Somerville has good food, not-so-good service

October 1, 2010

Kelly's Diner in Somerville

At least that was my experience. I went there on Saturday for breakfast, and had a tasty grilled bagel (grilled bagels are amazing!) with cream cheese, yummy ham, potatoes, orange juice and coffee. Everything was scrumptious but our waitress was kind of out of it. Maybe she was having a bad day, but still.

One of the first things she asked us is if she had makeup on her nose. She had all this blue eyeshadow and glitter around her eyes, so I think she was afraid it had spread to other parts of her face. We told her she was in the clear, because she was. We ordered coffee and orange juice and got it without a problem.

Ordering our food was a little more difficult. She didn’t seem to know the menu and had to ask us a few time to repeat our orders. That was fine– I’d rather she take her time getting it right than us getting the wrong thing. We ended up getting our food pretty promptly so that was good, too.

But after that she didn’t seem to remember we were there. I asked her for water, and she said she’s bring one. She totally didn’t, however, and was instead talking to the elderly gentleman next to us (we were seated at the counter) about her aspirations of owning a hair salon. She said that her dad supported the idea, too, as he could then retire.

I though it was good she was making small talk with customers, but not at the expense of my thirst! I was dying for that glass of water. I tried to catch her attention but she was in another world. Each time she walked by us she was looking in another direction. Basically she just seemed out of it. Maybe she had had a rough night or something.

The one moment I was looking the other way, she came by and refilled my coffee mug to the brim. I looked over and she was already gone. This is actually a pet peeve of mine– servers who top off your coffee without asking your permission. I only wanted one cup, and it was perfectly flavored with sugar. By giving me more coffee she not only wasted coffee, but upset the beverage’s balance of coffee and sugar. I had to add more sugar, which meant sugar was also wasted.

One other thing I noticed was she was continuously adjusting her undergarments. But at least the food was good! And it’s cool the restaurant is inside one of the largest dining cars every manufactured in the 1950s.

Yes, I’m a cheapskate

September 3, 2010

I got this free t-shirt for joining Planet FitnessI joined a gym for $100 a year. Can you believe it??? That’s like $8 a month!

That gym is Planet Fitness in Porter Square in Cambridge. I had heard from friends it’s cheap to go there, so I looked up the location online. They have a very helpful webpage detailing their various membership options. How’s that for transparency?

The page also list the gym’s contact information and hours. It sounds like a no brainer, but some gyms don’t even have a website (crazy in today’s world, huh?).

You can actually sign up for a gym membership online. I entered in the appropriate information, including my credit card number, and “Voila!” I was automatically a member.

I went to the gym a few days later, and started working out. I couldn’t believe the gym’s cleanliness and attractiveness. For $8 a month, I was getting this? Had I died and gone to heaven? Something must be wrong with this scenario. Maybe there’s asbestos or something in the room and that’s why the membership is so cheap??? I have no idea!

Anyway, the gym has lots and lots of elliptical machines and treadmills, the two pieces of equipment I use the most. Each one has a television attached, with a closed caption option. It was so fun– the other day I got to watch Tyra Banks interview people about their addiction to technology, while burning calories. It was a win-win!

And then on another occasion I got to see a funny Regis and Kelly segment where Kelly (while deliberately acting like a ditz) learned how to change a tire. I wouldn’t normally watch these shows, but it’s great to have the opportunity while exercising.

I know people who pay much more money for their Boston Sports Club gym memberships. And from what I hear the Central Square location’s televisions won’t turn on without headphones plugged in. Some people don’t like working out with headphones, so that is a real drawback I feel.

Planet Fitness in Porter Square has a number of weightlifting machines, and a mat for you stretch and do sit-ups on. Unfortunately there are no classes offered, but for the price it’s understandable.

The bathrooms are nice and clean, the two rooms are quite open (not cluttered),  and I like the gym’s purple, yellow and black color scheme.

Make sure, though, if you join the gym to check your bank statement. Planet Fitness “accidentally” charged me $99 twice. No one (I talked to two different employees) actually apologized for this oversight, though they did quickly provide me with my refund.

I love Christopher’s in Porter Square

September 3, 2010

christopher's restaurant in Cambridge

Isn’t the outside portion of Christopher’s Restaurant & Bar so cute?

Inside is nice, too. There’s nothing better than getting a seat on one of the bar stools (don’t worry Mom, I only have a drink or too) on a blustery, winter night. The wooden bar area and nearby fireplace make you feel nice and cozy. The bartenders are very friendly, and the clientele is laid-back.

I’ve had quite a few of their menu items. For appetizers, I prefer the spinach and artichoke dip and southwestern tofu dip. For dinner, I like their sirloin tips and chicken piccata. I’m not so much a fan of the stir fry (not too tasty) or spinach and artichoke burrito (I didn’t like the combination of spinach, artichokes, goat cheese, cheddar and mozzarella, red sauce, vegetarian black beans, mango slaw, greens and pico de gallo– call me crazy since it sounds good on paper!).

For dessert I loooovvvvee their chocolate mousse. One time I went there for an after-dinner snack and had that with a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile (best wine there). It was the perfect match! I also like their caramel apple granny pie.

For you beer lovers, they have an extensive list of beers on tap (including nine weekly specials).

This post makes it sound like I go out to eat all the time. That’s not really the case– it’s just that my boyfriend used to live right near Christopher’s so that’s where we went when we didn’t feel like cooking.

Super Fitness in Watertown doesn’t put customers first

August 27, 2010

I keep complaining about companies, but this complaint is truly merited. Up until a couple of weeks ago I belonged to the Super Fitness gym in Watertown. I decided to end my membership as I was moving to Somerville, about a 20-minute drive from the gym.

I looked at a copy of my contract to make sure I could end my membership. Turns out toward the bottom of the contract there was a note about it being for two years. The only way I could get out of the contract is if I moved something like 25 miles away, or had proof I couldn’t exercise.

Neither of these conditions applied to me, unfortunately. I was angry at myself for having signed the contract, but also at my gym for the way it had represented the contract. I remember meeting with one of the gym’s employees, and telling him I would only sign up if my membership was a month-to-month commitment. He said it was, and that whenever I wanted to end it I could with no penalty.

Well, so much for that. Looking at my contract I realized he had lied. I went to my gym to see if I could end my membership anyway. I was given a phone number, and told to call “Shelly” in Quincy. I called her, left a message. and waited. She didn’t get back to me so I left another message and sent an email detailing my situation.

She finally called me back, and said I could end my membership early for $50. Normally she’d charge $100, she said, but because I had attended the gym for so long (a year and a half) she would give me the discount. I appreciated her offer, though I was disappointed she hadn’t apologized for her colleague’s misleading words the day I signed up for the gym.

I ended up sending Shelly my $50 check. I called and emailed her numerous times to make sure she had received it. No response. I ended up confirming she’d received my check by looking at my bank account.

Shelly had told me my membership would last until the end of August, as I had paid my monthly membership fee for all of August.

I went to the gym toward the beginning of August, and my card was rejected. The girl at the counter told me my membership was over. She said I’d have to call Shelly. I called her but received no call back (surprise, surprise). It’s like as soon as she had all of my money she didn’t care about helping me anymore.

I don’t know if any of this conduct merits a Better Business Bureau complaint. But at least I can use this blog to spread the word about the gym’s practices.

It looks I’m not the only one who’s experienced their poor customer service/was lied to about what I was signing.

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/34909987@N07/3265269814


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