In a town obsessed with celebrity and publicity, there are a few well-known residents in Los Angeles who prefer their picture is never taken - Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila is one. That professional anonymity ended Tuesday night when she and three others arrived at Red Medicine, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly Hills. Virbila had her photo snapped and her party was turned away and refused service; a bitter pill to swallow for a restaurant critic.
Red Medicine is the latest project from Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, Noah Ellis, previously of Michael Mina's restaurant group, and Chef Jordan Kahn, who counts stints with chefs Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz and Michael Mina on his résumé. So why would a brand new restaurant, with three high-profile partners, risk outing and angering the LA Times food critic, a fixture on the scene for the last 16 years?
On a Wednesday night visit to Red Medicine, Ellis told me that he, Kahn and Fleischman had long talked about what they would do if Virbila showed up to their restaurant. They played out scenarios, they talked about potential fallout and they came up with a working plan. If Virbila was spotted, they would turn her away and in essence, decline her review. They would also take her picture and post it. Tuesday night’s critical outing has certainly drawn praise and criticism from the blogosphere.
On Yelp, Garry G. wrote: “I’m disgusted.”
Steve L., a Yelper from Pasadena, Calif., offers this advice: “Do you have crow on your menu? You should eat a double helping of it…”
Maxsap (Eater LA) says: “Bravo! Finally someone has taken action… She is the 'mean girl' of reviewers. We and the Los Angeles Times deserves better!”
Also on Eater LA, Jack Straw says: “She is one voice. Yes, she has a bigger platform than most, but it's shrinking daily.”
So what happens to S. Irene Virbila, whose anonymity is gone? According to the LA Times, “Virbila has been our restaurant critic since 1994. We consider her to be one of the premier restaurant critics in the U.S.”
The LA Times still plans to review the restaurant. Food Editor Russ Parsons said, “the restaurant was chosen for review, because of its pedigree,” adding, “We had hopes that they would be doing interesting things with Southeast Asian food.”
Noah Ellis, for his part, welcomes the review explaining, “Jordan and I did not want her review. We understand that in this age, anyone can express their opinion, and people have the right to choose what to read and what to listen to. This is specific to her, not to the Los Angeles Times, not to print critics in general, not to bloggers, Yelpers, etc. We want feedback from our guests, because ultimately, that's the only way we're going to make them happy.”
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