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Restaurant outs, ousts noted food critic

Fri., Dec. 24, 2010

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila ducked into Red Medicine, a new Beverly Hills restaurant, for some modern Vietnamese food the other night, but got nothing to eat. Instead, she was outed and ousted, her party turned away, her picture snapped and critic’s anonymity shredded by the restaurateur himself.

“I always knew at some point a blogger or somebody would take a secret photo. But I never expected that a restaurateur would stick a camera in my face,” Virbila said.

Virbila was rebuffed, Red Medicine managing partner Noah Ellis said, because “Irene is not the person any of us wanted reviewing our restaurant. … This was not a rash decision.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the photo of Virbila was posted on several blogs and websites, including the much-viewed and Virbila’s anonymity, which she’d guarded through 16 years as the newspaper’s restaurant critic, was a memory. And among foodies, the debate over anonymity – is it still possible or even advisable for a restaurant critic? – was on.

If restaurant staffers know you’re a critic with wide readership, Virbila said, they change their behavior and sometimes even serve different food. Essentially, “it’s not an accurate representation of the restaurant.”

Ellis said he hopes his actions prevent Virbila from reviewing his restaurant and allows other restaurants to “make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her.”

Added Ellis: “We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs.”


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