A critical outing
December 23rd, 2010
10:30 AM ET
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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?

Ellis posted Virbila’s photo on Tumblr and their website writing, “we don’t care for her or her reviews.” He admits a previous Virbila review of Kahn’s efforts at XIV in which she wrote, “With its cacophony of flavors, this may be one of the worst desserts I've tasted,” had a souring effect on the trio.

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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Filed under: Critics • Critiquing Criticism • Feature • Gossip • News • Newspapers • Restaurant News • Think

soundoff (285 Responses)
  1. Bigabigd

    There are really two issues here:

    1) Do the owners have the legal right to refuse service? – yes

    2) Was it a good idea to do it and will it affect their business more than tue dreaded crap rec
    Good idea? Maybe

    July 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Hortense and Her Enormous "Cavity"

    I find it hilarious that the commenters here think they're making an important stand by announcing they're not going to Red Medicine. First, you can't afford to go, because your mom won't let you out of your room. Second, nobody cares about your opinion, so go sit on something pointy.

    January 4, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  3. laura

    I agree with many of these comments about the downright rude, mean-spirited and petty treatment of this restaurant critic. Refusing her service is one thing and sends a strong message to be sure, but outing her and taking her photo is downright immature and vindictive. I for one, will be sure to NEVER EVER frequent this restaurant on any of my monthly visits to the area! I have worked in many a restaurant myself and maybe the chefs should put their egos in the oven for a little shrinking...

    January 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  4. former nightlife critic

    The primary reason critics remain annonymous is because if they don't, the place being reviewed will fall all over themselves to give the writer special treatment and therefore, he/she will be receive a biased experience unlike that which "regular" customers would get. By remaining annonymous, the critic is assured of seeing the restaurant (or place being reviewed) as the average visitor otherwise would. So the outing essentially minimizes her ability to give an impartial review

    December 26, 2010 at 6:37 am |
    • Jesse

      Actually in her case being anonymous was to help her avoid the consequences of abusive reveiws, which what happened to her in this story is an example of. Normally it is what you stated but she obviously wasn't doing anything to protect her anonymity and rubbed people the wrong way which led to her shaming more than her outing. It was obvious she was already out because they new her.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Ozzi

    I just checked their site. It says happiness and comfort. What a load of cr**p.

    Now I know they are incredibly hateful people. Especially, when they have to post this stuff on a website.

    Definitely, not going.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Hortense and Her Enormous "Cavity"

      I doubt they'll stay up nights worrying about their cash flows now that you've announced you're not going. You couldn't afford to go anyway, basement-dwelling retard probably doesn't pay all that well.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  6. Ozzi

    Ramsey would have done no such thing to anyone. Ramsey may scream but he does not hit.

    The reality is that Red Medicine has insulted everyone by attacking this critic. They have attacked bloggers and critics alike by attacking Irene. I do rely on critics doing reports on restaurants and movies because I don't want to waste hard earned money on a less-than satisfying experience.

    I will certainly avoid this group in the future.

    December 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • Hortense and Her Enormous "Cavity"

      Insult bloggers? God forbid we don't cotton to a class of self-important nimrods perched on a trash can in their mom's basement spewing their pointless opinion about the world to anyone dim enough to read it. Go sit on an overturned stool.

      January 4, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  7. Child, Please!

    They "long talked about what they would do if Virbila showed up to their restaurant. They played out scenarios."???

    CREEPY. Business must not be so good if they've got so much time to plot and scheme against a lone food critic!

    December 24, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Ozzi

      Really. They planned this because negative attention does get press. They would rather be hated and make some money for a short time like Spencer Pratt than create a legacy.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  8. stu


    December 24, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  9. kvd

    i think she got off easy. gordon ramsaey would have just punched her in the face. :)

    December 24, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Jerv

      LMAO! I'd pay to see that!

      December 24, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  10. chris

    Food critics are entirely useless. If a food critic is so great, then I suggest said critic opening his/her own restaurant . But maybe the old saying is true: those who can, do; those who who can't, teach; those who can do neither, criticize.

    December 24, 2010 at 9:05 am |
    • Jerv

      Interesting, never heard that saying made quite like that, however it sums up the whole outing thing quite nicely. Well done.

      December 24, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  11. CGCinNYC

    Tonight, after reading this article, I was curious to see just how fellow readers reacted and decided to scroll down to see the "comments'. I rarely scroll down to view reader comments for one prevailing reason – I'm absolutely disgusted to witness the stupidity and utter lack of intelligent, educated English grammar so proudly displayed. Self important readers splash their opinions on screen for everyone to read while, unbeknownst to them, literally "announcing" just how moronic their level of intelligence and lack of the English language actually is. My advice to readers: If you feel you have something to contribute, take the time to capitalize the necessary words, display some sense of grammar and intelligence, and maybe – just maybe – your words and thoughts will actually be taken seriously. After reading most of the comments following this article, I can honestly say that I completely disregarded a good 80% of the comments due to utter amazement and disgust at the complete lack of education and ability to write. And for the record, I think critics – no matter what industry they may be in – should be required to demonstrate that they have earned their right to judge others in their field. For example: If you're going to be qualified to judge a chef and his/her restaurant, you, yourself, should have been selected as one of the best chefs around. Same goes for movies, art, etc. Unless you've produced or directed movies and earned the respect of your peers, you should NOT be respected for simply sitting aimlessly aside and making personal judgment calls. The absolute worst are art critics. They can't draw a straight line to save their life, but they certainly have something profound and self important to say regarding others. Utterly ridiculous.

    December 24, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  12. mccgeno

    The place sounds kinda gay.

    December 24, 2010 at 6:40 am |
  13. Rehtaeh

    LOL jules, yea really!

    December 24, 2010 at 4:19 am |
  14. Rehtaeh

    I don't really feel strongly one way or another on this story, except for what really makes someone an "expert" on what food should taste like, but couldn't she easily have a lawsuit against them for outing her and potentially ruining her career? If this ruins her to the point where she can't do her job therefore she's out of any pay she would get she could easily say, and quite possibly prove, based on the timeline, that that was a direct cause of that. Just saying that was a very immature and dumb thing for them to do and could backfire on them. Although what's it off their backs to pay millions if they're charging so much for their food like some have said.

    December 24, 2010 at 4:12 am |
  15. jules

    lol i cant even afford to go to subway can we have some REAL news that might affect the other 99% of the populous?

    December 24, 2010 at 2:59 am |
    • Ozzi

      Jules, it does affect us. You and I can be outed for our opinions and ideas.

      Look at the larger picture.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  16. anahadwolves

    There is nothing so odious as a restauranteur who exudes attitude rather than professionalism. The single visit I and my party made to Red Medicine can be summed up in a single word: Barf! The salad was wilted, the entrees over-salted, the wine selection insipid, the waiters snotty, the dessert selections tasteless and the attitude of all at the restaurant was that they were doing us a favor just by serving us. Give me a break!

    There are superior restaurants in Beverly Hills in which I can drop a grand on dinner/drinks for my party and feel as if I got a bargain; enduring the gastronomic travesty that is Red Medicine only made me long for a hot shower upon exiting...and, a decent meal!

    December 24, 2010 at 12:12 am |
    • Child, Please!

      Careful, anahadwolves. Given the time they have on their hands to plot & scheme, they'll lie in wait for you to enter their establishment only to ambush you to take your pic, then publish it! LOL

      December 24, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  17. The Pig Is Exposed

    This is the long-overdue outing and expose' of a malignant, hateful, and deliberately mean slob of a woman, who has a highly exaggerated sense of entitlement and standards. She can now wash dishes at one of the restaurants – That is, if she's lucky enough to find one who will hire her.

    December 23, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • Mac

      ... by malignant, hateful, and deliberately mean slobs of men who have highly exaggerated sense of entitlement and standards.

      Pah. Works on both sides. They make food. They're not the damn Peace Corps.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:09 am |
      • Ms. Funk

        The Peace Corps isn't the Peace Corps any longer...that's my critique

        December 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Mac

      Incidentally, for everyone on here... I just read her review of XIV. It's fine – there's no mean spirit, it's not "sound bite" pithy, it doesn't fail the wait staff, hand someone their head on a platter, nor is it malignant or hateful.

      She didn't like the mushy dessert and this is how the chef responds? Time to put on his big-boy pants.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  18. Foodie2

    I hope she sues their arses off and wins.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm |

    As a former Restaurant owner, I enjoyed being reviewed by Food Critics because I felt I was producing quality and if their reviews were honest it would increase my business and inform the public better than 'word of mouth' or advertisement. The owners of Red Medicine have the right to deny her service but the ramifications might be their demise. How many people might think they have something to hide? (Maybe Crows on the menu was mentioned by another poster.) Now they will be getting a review done by another Food Critic who just might enact revenge for their colleague.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  20. kindanude

    This owners are smart. By doing this look at all the attention the are getting. You cant buy this, by outting her they are now on fox new website and not just in one news paper. People going on vaction there may just stop in and get a bite to eat just to try it that would never have heard about it if they never didnt this and got on fox news website.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Ozzi

      Do you want to be exposed for your opinion? This is bigger than just outing a food critic.

      December 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  21. Beck Pictures

    I don't think that this was a smart move on a number of levels. As a photographer, I realize the importance of a signed model or property release. Publishing an image without one of these releases signed can result in being sued for invasion of privacy. Since they also made mention of who she is, and what she does on their blog, an argument could be made that they have also just destroyed her career. Since anonymity for a 'critic' is important, it could be argued that by publishing her photograph without consent, thereby damaging her career. It will most likely mean that the owners of Red Medicine will have effectively shot themselves in their own foot. It is likely that a lawsuit will be filed, and then settled out of court for what will probably be a hefty sum of money.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  22. Stu

    Wait, who reads news papers anymore? Cavemen?

    December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  23. Stella

    The owners of Red Medicine are like spoiled babies who feel entitled to be coddled and throw a tantrum when their fragile egos are threatened. They seem to believe that their best interest should be the focus of everyone everywhere. I think it's unbelievable they asked this woman's party to leave; she wasn't even there to do a review, she was just there to have dinner. I'm NEVER eating at this restaurant and will urge everyone I know to eat elsewhere.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  24. Justin Observation

    Oh great, now how am I going to know if I am supposed to like something? Taste it? sheesh.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
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