Restaurant reviewers like to believe they operate incognito. That's no easy task in the internet age, and it just got much more difficult for Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila (@sirenevribila) who was outed by an angry restaurateur. Actually, first she was kicked out then she was outed.
Last night, Virbila showed up with three friends at Red Medicine (@redmedicinela), the recently opened Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly Hills from Adam Fleischman, Noah Ellis and chef Jordan Kahn.
Someone on staff recognized her, snapped her picture (rarer than a picture of Bigfoot!) and asked her, along with her three companions, to leave. As if that wasn't bad enough, they later posted Virbila's picture on their Tumblr site to warn other restaurants and encourage them to also run the picture. It comes with a manifesto from co-owner Ellis explaining their decision. The full text is after the jump, but here's the brief: "We don't care for her or her reviews," she has "no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant" and "some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational." [sic]
Turnabout is fair play? If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen? So many maxims to fall back on, but one thing is certain: Red Medicine is bound to get a terrific review in the Times after that.
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Tonight, in the middle of a particularly hairy service, Irene Virbila arrived for her reservation (4 people under the name "Fred Snow" with a phone number of 310-999-9959), and because we had guests lingering, were not able to sit immediately.
She was recognized, and at while standing by the door, I was able to take this photo of her. At this point, I asked her and her party to leave, as we don't care for her or her reviews.
Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs -- we don't feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.
Upon asking her to leave, her husband and dining companions were quite upset, and made mention that this may be illegal and was cruel and unfair. Obviously, she was not discriminated against as part of any protected class, but rather because she is someone we choose not to serve here.
We're writing this to make everyone aware that she was unable to dine here, and as such, any retribution by her or on her behalf via a review cannot be considered to be unbiased.
We hope that those of you in the industry will support us by coming by for a late-snack or drink (the story is told much better in person), and will use this recent picture to your benefit.
Many chefs tell us that they know exactly which food writers they need to impress and what they look like -- and they act accordingly. They maintain the reviewer's illusion of anonymity, but they make damn sure to send out the best possible dishes.
Did Red Medicine behave badly by kicking out Virbila? Should restaurant reviewing be more transparent in the age of Facebook, Yelp, et al.? Should restaurateurs be a little more thick-skinned when it comes to critics, both of the newspaper and the Yelp variety? What do you think?
[Note: Out of professional courtesy, we've obscured Virbila's face.]