Brew food with ambience – the mix is a winner

Fun on a Saturday.  Yesterday, I came back refreshed from sitting in front of a wide pool, invitingly clear blue water with waves stirred by little children propped with winged plastic floaters around their arms, Moms and Dads guiding their toddlers as they negotiated the water with their flailing small arms and legs, splashes from youngsters jumping into the big basin, and one father who leaped into the deeper blue and landed on his belly with a loud thud.  On a gorgeous summer-like day, it was a most entertaining and satisfying respite, for a delightful party of five for the birthdays of a mother and her 18-year-old son.

I could have sat there the whole day, till the sky turned gray, and the sun’s shimmers disappeared from the waters, and the lighthearted banters and laughter from neighboring customers had silenced. It was a happy place ideal for eating and socializing outdoors.

Dinah’s not-so-secret but hidden garden, and lavishly rich brownie sundae. (Photos by Dr. Chandra Vadhana)

Best of all, with such inspiring scenery and surroundings, the company was fun and lively.  Somehow, conversations perk up when the food is good, not to mention that topics often default to animated discussions of fine cuisine and gourmet experiences that prompt memories of events or occasions where food offerings didn’t disappoint.  Food, not only does it satiate, but it also triggers happy memories of moments spent with family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances when the edibles were seriously outrageously sumptuous. Such was our party at lunch today, in the midst of lively chatter surrounding us, from customers likely as content as we were with the ambience and the food.

I relished my usual at Dinah’s Garden poolside restaurant in Palo Alto, CA — light battered crispy cod fish and crunchy string fries, with a generous mound of greens on the side. Connie, the celebrant, enjoyed the same, while her husband Steve chose a thick reuben (corn beef) sandwich, and their son Bryant diligently worked on a tower of wagyu beef sandwich. Chandra, a health food disciple, chose a deliciously looking vegetable sandwich.  The meal climaxed to rich servings of chocolate sundae oozing with whip cream on vanilla ice cream scoops and nestled on compact layer of brownie.

The surprise of the day was our trek to Dinah’s tropical garden behind the restaurant, where numerous fountains gushed water into the landscaped ponds that snaked in several directions, in front of hotel guest rooms. The soothing rhythm of oozing water, not in trickles but in volumes, seemed to echo on the winding garden path. The fact is, there were several fountains anchored in the middle of the ponds.  Rich vegetation adorned the sides where flowers bloomed luxuriously in bushes.  Ducks languidly traversed the shallow waters that branched out in different directions.  Three seniors sat comfortably in the gazebo, like nothing else mattered except the stories and memories they shared. I wanted to eavesdrop.  I love stories, especially from folks who have lived through so much of what the world can offer. We spotted one lady guest feeding the ducks with corn on dry land (corn isn’t allowed to be thrown in the water to avoid drain clogs).  But a special feed can be pitched into the pond, and with that given, the ducks gathered in droves, craning their graceful necks up toward the source of the feed. Quite a delightful picture of how food livened up the ducks in the pond. Contrary to the cliche “ducks in a row”, they crowded, wing to wing (not elbow to elbow) in eager anticipation. But come to think of, I didn’t hear impatient or impetuous “quacks”. They must have been disciplined to be respectful – hmmm.

Despite my frequent visits at Dinah’s poolside restaurant, that was my first time to walk the garden – almost like a “secret hidden garden”, magical and strangely feeling tropical.  The design very much presented like a Japanese garden.  I told my friends, I felt like I was in Hawaii, especially with the cool breeze that fanned the bamboo trees, the hibiscus and hydrangea bushes by the water’s edge, and flat banana leaves stacked against their trunks standing like sentinels at the end of the walkways.

Definitely a go-to place for casual or formal dining, a hang-out for relaxing and savoring the fresh and cool surroundings, with a garden to walk through and listen to the calming music of flowing water after a delightful meal.

Food with ambience, definitely a sure bet – especially when mixed with great company.

Linda P. Jacob