Dinner With A View - The Latest In Gimmick Dining Arrives In San Diego

February 6, 2020

The social media era has ushered in a new bastardized dining trend where photogenic gimmick is a marketing ploy somehow successfully used to get diners in the door. The latest Instagram-fueled culinary artifice to enter San Diego is Dinner With A View, a roving pop-up based out of Canada where diners pay top dollar to eat a 3-course dinner inside a plastic dome. We experienced it. It is not worth your time or money. Avoid the hype. You're welcome.

Founded in Ottawa, Canada in 2018, Dinner With A View was initially spearheaded by a Top Chef Canada winner and the first installment in Toronto was met with protests after the city forced the removal of a nearby makeshift homeless camp to clear a space near the event. The second run took place in Montreal with a visit in Vancouver currently underway. For each Dinner With A View installation, a couple dozen geodesic, plastic, igloo-like spheres are installed at a random location for approximately one month and parties of up to six people pay around $200 to reserve a dome (although promo codes are being offered for up to 60% the dome reservation) and $110 per person for a three course dinner (not including alcohol or drinks, tax, tip and service fee). Each"terrarium" is fashionably decorated and a local chef is signed on to lead the dining experience. The San Diego Dinner With A View takes place on the grounds of NTC Command Center in Liberty Station from February 6 through March 8.

Dinner With A View San Diego Chef Claudette Zepeda 
"A completely luxurious dining experience in a highly unexpected setting," reads the Dinner With A View website. "The adventure begins as guests are ushered into a unique outdoor space - a wondrous environment perfect for sharing via social. Our domes are transformed into terrariums with distinct terrains. A terrarium is an elegant encapsulation of an ecosystem; a living biosphere captured in time. Here, we bring that notion to life inside our domes, each corresponding to a different region of the earth’s terroir: tundra, tropical, grasslands, arid and boreal forest. These extraordinary spaces are designed using resplendent materials such as live flora, luxurious textiles and elegant illumination. The dining experience is anchored by the Chef’s savoir-faire, and the landscape from which our food is grown."

As said when we broke the news of its impending arrival in San Diego, why such a concept would choose America's Finest City as its first U.S. location is a conundrum in and of itself, as California's southernmost metropolis boasts one of the most perfect climates and scenic settings in the country. For San Diego, former El Jardin chef Claudette Zepeda was tasked with leading the kitchen, and it must have been sweet for her to know she would be competing with the nearby Liberty Station eatery that abruptly ousted her last summer.

The "Butter Cake" dessert
We experienced Dinner With A View during a "special" media and VIP preview attended by the likes of San Diego Union Tribune food writers, Eater San Diego's editor, many of the city's top "influencers", and even skateboard legend Tony Hawk. The meal was a hodgepodge of uninspired beige dishes complimented by the slowest service imaginable. Dinner was scheduled to begin promptly at 7:30pm although we were asked to arrive a half hour earlier. We did not receive our first course until 8:20pm. It was the most petite white bean salad ever, which I devoured in 3 bites. Service continued to crawl at a snail's pace with our main courses not arriving until 9:15pm. The seafood entree was a Baja pink grouper with some accoutrements. It was overcooked. The meat entree was boneless chicken breast over roasted cauliflower and a full plate of curry sauce. Yes, they served a boneless chicken breast dish at a price point of at least $150 per person. Dessert was an unmemorable butter cake. There were no printed menus nor were dishes adequately described, so we were never fully aware of what we were eating. From other diners polled, we all agreed the dinner rolls were the highlight of the night. As for the domes, they were nicely decorated inside, with a small space heater and each seat receiving a blanket, but the plastic tiles were covered in water marks. Another annoying aspect was each time a waiter arrives, he had to zip into and out of the dome. After arriving at 7:15pm, our dinner experience did not end until 10:10pm.

If one of your bucket list items is to eat mediocre wedding food in a hamster ball, the Dinner With A View pop-up may be the event for you, but we would recommend you spend your hard earned money on a delicious meal at a local San Diego restaurant. For sake of comparison, La Jolla's George's California Modern offers its 7-course tasting menu with true Pacific Ocean views for $110 per person or $180 with wine pairings. Now that's what we would call dinner with a view in San Diego!! Or if you really want to jump on a silly gimmick, at least support a San Diego pop-up like Cow By Bear. One last note, as silly as Dinner With A View is, it's still infinitely more sensical than Dîner en Blanc.

For a perfectly summarized review of Dinner With A View from someone who actually paid to attend, see the below brilliance from Facebook User Giorgio:

"Just experienced this last night in San Diego - reserved for Valentine’s Day for a party of 6 when the reservations opened in December of last year. 200 bucks to get a dome, 109 per plate. They don’t tell you once you get your reservation that you have 2 days to pay for your plates or else you lose it and most of your deposit. (ok you better be ready to drop that additional 659.94 right then and there) 859.94 up front 2 months in advance, this dinner is going to rock tho! Big name Chef promised, awesome experience with friends on lock for prime time. Show up and get told things are a little short staffed so you just have to wait for a bit to get seated in what will become your plastic prison for the evening. Nearly 900 bucks in for a big dining experience and you get the privilege of paying 8 dollars for a water - *ok* little gimmicky but you are already invested at this point. Want a drink while you are waiting 20 minutes after your reservation time to get seated ? Don’t worry you can have a 16 dollar excuse of a craft cocktail or a variety of beer choices that include Stella and.....no, there’s just one beer choice. It’s Stella. That’s it. One. Ok - while that seems a little off, don’t worry this food from the celebrity chef is going to rock and for that price of 143 per plate (So far, without water or a drink or a tip) you should just settle in and let the staff take care of you. You have 3 wine choices *yawn*, here comes another 70 bucks for a 14 dollar bottle, but you already expected that and you settle on the one Cab they have in the state filled with 3,674 wineries at last count. Things are definitely starting to feel a little weird when you are seated in your dome and are now over the 1K spent for your guests with drinks during your wait to get seated, and you find yourself sitting at a glamorous table with peeling 👏 plastic 👏 plates 👏 and cheap plastic settings and table decorations. Ok - shake that off, they must be saving money there in order to invest in the food, rejoice when some tiny pieces of bread come out with 2 tortillas included to make things international, and one tiny butter to pass around to the 6 total guests. That is gone shortly since you are an hour post your reservation at this point and finally getting food, but don’t worry, you can purchase more rolls for 6 dollars! Yippie! (Be careful here, these rolls are actually the best part of the meal. Enjoy them). Out comes your first course and it is - it is, a bean, salad? Beans and something? It low key looks like dog vomit, but since you already are over a thousand bucks, you try to ignore the fact that it actually tastes like dog vomit. At this point in time, things are starting to get suspicious. What is this amazing experience promised from all of those social media influencers? Is it - so far - absolutely terrible? Surely for this sort of skrilla, the main meal is going to be amazing ! We can overlook this other petty stuff when that awesome meal comes out and satisfies you and your loved guests, right? Well it gets to you - and it’s a little cold. In fact, it is cold. Some fishy and short rib. Both bland and dry. The easiest way to describe is a business class meal on a flight, not first class, not coach, either way one that was pre-made but wasn’t properly warmed. (PRO-TIP - REQUEST SALT AND PEPPER BEFORE BEAN VOMIT ) When we discovered our bland entree was portioned for a Bernie Sanders Voter and tasted like the cardboard that socialist now eat in Venezuela, we requested salt and pepper. This perplexed the staff, and there was a rush to find some which ultimately will arrive after you need it to season what is remaining of your cold dish. This is the point in time when the ground gets shaky, and the world in your bubble starts crashing down around you. You realize that you have just been taken advantage of and are part of an elaborate scam. You resisted your old high school friends pyramid scheme, you decided you weren’t going to join Karen’s “team selling vitamin shots”, and you laugh when someone knocks on your door to sell you insurance, and this is why you have difficulty with what just happened. Your guests look at you with a bit of pity, but also with disappointment. You silently all sit awaiting the final course, you single dessert choice which is a lone moment of happiness, not for the taste but for realization that you are about to escape the dome. This is the Fyre Festival of fine dining. It was comically horrible. You start to laugh and look around at the bubbles around you - everyone meeting each other’s gaze in agreement. Maybe there is hidden cameras and you are a part of a social experiment in a fine dining ruse made for reality TV? Will you be signing a release on the way out so your reactions can be broadcast on the food networks version of Punk’d and provided a refund? No - you will make your way past a sign stating “reserve your dome for 79.99 now, we are 75% sold out” and not want to make eye contact with your other party goers. In the end, bringing them there will have been your fault. If you reserve a dome - that will be your cross to carry when judgement comes. UBER home alone, crawl into a ball, and cry into your pillow. The dome has won."