Despite the once-anonymous identity of a veteran food critic for the Los Angeles Times being exposed, the critic — S. Irene Virbila — will continue to review restaurants as usual, the Los Angeles Times readers’ representative noted Dec. 30.
Critic S. Irene Virbila was outed earlier this month at a Beverly Hills restaurant called Red Medicine. She claims she was not there to review the restaurant, but on a personal visit, and had made the reservations with her husband under a pseudonym.
“The menu looked really interesting,” she is quoted as saying by the Times, explaining she went to the restaurant “just to check it out. I wasn’t writing a review that night.”
The owners of the restaurant reportedly took a picture of Virbila and posted it online.
As the Times summarized itself Dec. 23:
“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.”
Virbila commented on the incident, stating that she “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.”
Red Medicine managing partner Noah Ellis reportedly said that the outing was done because “Irene is not the person any of us wanted reviewing our restaurant. … This was not a rash decision.”
However, Virbila “had unfavorably reviewed one of Ellis’s partners work at another restaurant,” The Washington Post noted.
Ellis is quoted by the Times as speaking negatively of Virbila’s reviews:
“We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hardworking people in this industry to lose their jobs. We didn’t do this to prove a point and liberate the restaurants of the world. We did it because it was the right action for us. We’re just trying to be a great restaurant.”
According to the Daily Mail, Ellis captioned the photo of Virbila on Red Medicine’s Tumblr site explaining that “we don’t care for her or her reviews.” Publishing the photo would allow “all restaurants” to “make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her.”
The restaurant’s owners “created a firestorm” by exposing Virbila’s identity, Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons explained in a Dec. 30 editor’s note.
“More than 15 years of working to remain anonymous were ruined,” he explained.
Calling the incident “unfortunate,” Parsons’ note addressed the Times’ method for reviewing restaurants — which will not change despite the outing he noted.
Part of the Times’ method included using fake names, he stated:
“We’ll continue to make reservations under assumed names; leave varying call-back numbers; and pay for our meals under a variety of credit card names.”
Parsons explained that the Times’ critics go to a restaurant “multiple” times “to make sure we’re not catching a restaurant on either its best or worst night.” As Parson sees it, by visiting the restaurant on more than one occasion and anonymously, the Times’ critics are more likely to have an objective experience at the restaurant.
Restaurant reviewers remaining anonymous is “a peculiarly American trait” and that European restaurant reviewers are often well known, Parsons claimed.. But U.S. reviewers try to remain anonymous so that service and food quality aren’t beefed up for the reviewer’s experience at a restaurant.
Parsons also stated that the Los Angeles Times wanted to use the outing as a “reminder” to explain how the star rating system works.
Giving a review a star rating is “the bane of critics everywhere, no matter what is being reviewed, because it aims to sum up several hundred words of nuanced explanation with one blunt icon,” according to Parsons.
Even a two-star rating (on a scale of four) is “a very good restaurant.” Most restaurants the Los Angeles Times has reviewed have been labeled a “two or two-and-a-half,” Parsons stated.