The cozy charm of outdoor dining boosts appetite and enjoyment

Outdoor dining, result of pandemic restrictions, actually carries  a casual charm.  Strange, or maybe not, I take preference for outdoor seating whenever I go to a restaurant.  Last weekend, I yielded to a craving for fish and chips that I enticed my sister and her husband to lunch with me at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto.  I was not disappointed.  The setting was perfect.  Tables and chairs were arranged under large umbrellas by the poolside, with adequate distancing between tables.  Servers were masked.  Customers took off their masks when eating  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.

The wide pool was teasing and inviting.  The clear turquoise water that shimmered in the sunlight matched the blue of the sky.  Families swam and played to unwind in the pool, or just waded while carrying on conversations with friends and family members. Respectful of dining customers, people in the pool did not engage in rowdy activity or loud conversation.  All in all, the atmosphere was of delightful conviviality.  But the special touch to the dining experience was the friendliness of the lady owner, who not only busied herself in helping to serve, but took the time to stop at tables and chat with customers. She lighted the place with her genuine interest in her customers and the service they get.

Cod fish on garlic fries at Dinah’s restaurant (Photo by Susan P. Veloro)

We learned that she’s the daughter of Charles and Hazel McMonagle who founded the business in 1926.  The establishment was originally named Dinah’s Shack, a tribute to their nanny called Dinah.  The restaurant then was popular for its generally southern cuisine.  Fried chicken and waffles easily became favorites among the customers many of whom dropped by for a meal on their way to San Francisco.  The restaurant was later patronized for its spectacular and generous smorgasbord.  Over the years, the menu evolved into a variety of Continental influences offering savory fish, meat and vegetable gourmet prepped in sophisticated, artistic presentations. especially served for dinner.

Our lunch was fresh cod in batter fried to a crisp brown and laid on top of a mound of thinly sliced garlicky fries  That’s what my sister Susan and I enjoyed. My brother-in-law Mario ordered a thick hamburger that held a juicy, hefty slice of beef sandwiched between generous layers of lettuce and tomatoes.  We didn’t go wrong with our choices.  The restaurant is known for these lunch specials that have gotten numerous favorable reviews.  Not to forget were our appetizers of slightly spiced honeyed chicken drumsticks and soft calamari rings enhanced by lemon squeeze and lightly sweetened sauce.

The hometown feeling of the dining experience was so comfortable that before we knew it, it was past the 2 p.m. end of the lunch schedule.  We overstayed.  There were some others at the next tables, just relaxing and enjoying the conversation, warm weather, and pleasant ambience.  The lady owner didn’t mind us taking longer to get up from our chairs – she said so with a friendly smile.  Thus, we lingered for prolonged chats, short of asking for the dinner menu. But we ordered dessert – tiramisu squares – thick and spongy, soft and delicate to the palate.  Quite heavenly!

I want to go back there for dinner and have the salmon entrée – in the subdued glow of the poolside.  No, don’t take me indoors.  I’ll be happier with Dinah’s fine cuisine in the cozy charm of its outdoor poolside dining.  And yes, with the weather now turning a bit nippy, a heat lamp would be nice.

Linda P. Jacob