Sunday, July 11, 2021

Inside Out

Hot damn, did she ever knock it out of the park.

When my third-born set out to find a restaurant in San Diego for her birthday dinner that felt interesting, unique, and well, fun, she settled on Inside Out, and let's just say she crushed it.

First, the food. All the bells and whistles mean nothing if a restaurant can't deliver up a delicious meal with a signature cocktail or two thrown into the mix. And Inside Out ticks all those boxes handily.

Service is another non-negotiable. The fleet of purple-polo-clad, leather-harness-wearing male-only servers treat us like the true princesses that we are, and bring exquisite professionalism and just the right amount of sass to their task. 

Now let's talk about ambiance. When I walk in the front door, I see before me a rather typical layout of two-tops running along an elegantly carpeted toward my left. But the host, who greets us instantly, leads us to the right...up a short ramp, past a wall of plants...and out into an eye-popping open air atrium. Water splashes merrily nearby, and a much longer, zig-zagging ramp runs up what I can only describe as a terraced hillside of table tops, filled with happy diners and bedecked with more plants and hundreds of twinkle lights.

I am instantly charmed. 

Alas, our party of five is led not to the ziggurat but to a long, low curving couch tucked in against the atrium side of the aforementioned plant wall and adorned with a series of low, coffee style tables. 

But, but, but, my brain splutters, Where's the table? How are we supposed to eat??

In a spasm of logic, I quickly deduce the answer: This is just like eating at home. You sit on the couch, with your plate on the coffee table or on your lap, and wing it. 

And the impact of this entirely post-Covid approach to dining out struck me as infinitely creative, insidiously clever, and just about the funniest thing I'd ever imagined. 

* * * * * 

We order our drinks, sit and sip, and as my eyes wander across the open space, I see people of all kinds. Skin tones range the gamut, gay couples shine out among the straighties, and the entire restaurant is filled with what I suddenly realize I missed most during the long months of Covid.


Thank you, Inside Out, for not just a distinctive birthday dinner and an invigorating evening, but for re-introducing to me the rich texture of life, for literally turning my quarantined soul inside out to face the world once again.

^ A handful of cocktails flow to our table, each one prettier than the next and much glass-passing is done as we sample and savor them all. I'm tempted to devour all the garnishes - so fresh and pretty.

^ I opt for grilled Atlantic salmon with warm German-style potato salad and a few green beans tucked in for good measure. Honestly, I would been satisfied with just the fish topped with the whole grain mustard cream sauce, but you better believe I ate every morsel.

^ The birthday girl chooses a grilled double cut pork chop, with sour cherry mostardo and caramelized onion, resting on collard greens, and the meal is easily bigger than she is. How she ate it all, I'll never know. But she did.

^ My fourth-born, ever the grazer, elects for a charcuterie and feasts upon delicious meats and cheeses. She is particularly smitten with the lavender honey, and insists that I sample some as well. Upon my first bite, I rip my phone out of my purse and order a bottle of lavender extract on the spot so we can replicate this nectar at home. True story.

^ Down at the far end of the couch, the elder sisters partake in another plate of the salmon (left), and spring lamb ragout (right) with pappardelle pasta, arugula, and mint pesto.

^ During our meal, the evening sky above us slowly darkens, and a kaleidoscope of lights bring new life to our space. Energetic tunes bump in the background, and I find myself calling down the couch so all my daughters can hear, "Let's go find a club!"

I am kidding. Kind of. 

But at this exact moment, a random waiter is strutting by. Abruptly, he slams on his brakes and whirls to face me.

"Did you just say you want to go to a club?"

I sheepishly confirm.

Scanning our faces up and down the couch, he double-checks his thinking. "You're the mom, right?"

I confirm this fact as well. 

"Dang," he says with a wistful smile, "I wish my mom would ask me to go out to a club with her. That would be amazing."

"You should ask her sometime," I encourage him. "She might say yes."

And I hope he does.

Because after our adventure at Inside Out, I believe once again that life is full of surprises and when we allow ourselves to turn inside out, absolutely anything is possible. 

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