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A Bay Area Trend With Sizzle


Clip this for use the next time a Northern Californian suggests to you that culture and sophistication evaporate a short distance south of the San Francisco city limits.

Branding has come to the Bay Area. It's possible to have a permanent scarlet letter embossed wherever you'd like for $35 to $100 at San Francisco's Body Manipulation.

In Los Angeles, the trend isn't red hot. Says tattoo artist Cliff Cadaver of Red Devil Studios in Hollywood: "We haven't branched out into the branding field."

Body Manipulation has been doing about two brands a month. Perhaps holding back more rapid growth is the fact that "people are afraid of being burned," says co-owner Vaughn.

A brand is "aesthetic as far as the design goes," says Vaughn, who uses one name. First, an outline is put on the skin. Then the branding iron--a sheet metal form heated with a blowtorch--is placed briefly against the skin over the outline. Each part of the design is struck separately, and it usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes to apply the whole pattern. However, the healing can take three or four months because, says Vaughn, "basically what you're getting is a third-degree burn."

But trendiness has its risks. "The main problem is in the healing," says Dr. Patrick Albergel, a Santa Monica dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon who is also a clinical assistant professor at UCLA. "Third-degree burns can have severe complications. One is bacterial infection, and in people with immune deficiency diseases, that can generate death if not taken care of. You can also get viral infections like herpes, and there's also the possibility of the formation of a keloid, which produces a very thick, painful scar."

How to Fight Menu Shock

If you've been avoiding your favorite chichi bistro and dining on McFood because the economy is wreaking havoc on your budget, take heart. Some upscale restaurants are rewarding frequent diners, a la frozen yogurt shops that have those buy-10-get-one-free deals.

The California Cafe Restaurant Corp.'s Cafe Club Awards program, which debuted last fall in California, offers bonuses ranging from free appetizers to weekend getaways for two in Napa Valley and other desirable locales. Patrons who spend as little as $200 or as much as $4,000 in select restaurants are eligible for points toward bonuses. (One point is equivalent to $1, and points can be accrued for an unlimited time.)

The program currently includes three California restaurants: San Diego's California Cafe Bar & Grill, Danville's Blackhawk Grille in Northern California and Cafe Del Rey in Marina del Rey. Some 22,000 people have joined up.

In another response to recession, the owners of L. A. Nicola recently sent out cards to patrons announcing: "In the face of painfully uncertain times, L.A. Nicola invites you to experience one pleasurable fact: Our full food menu half-price every Monday evening." Leerese Nicola says so far the offer has met with overwhelming approval and a packed house, and in the understatement of the year added, "Everybody's looking for a bargain."

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