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Foodgazi
December 23, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

A few days ago, Los Angeles Times food critic, S. Irene Virbila, was photographed and kicked out of Jordan Kahn's new Beverly Hills restaurant, Red Medicine.

The Yelp Wrath is already in full swing.

Short Bios on Kahn, and partner Noah Ellis.

More reviews by Virbila, and an interview with previous Los Angeles Times food critic, Ruth Reichl.
posted by PBR (85 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Que: "Do You Like Me?"
posted by gcbv at 12:35 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awesome! I will never go to that restaurant now. Restaurants that are afraid of reviewers are generally shitty restaurants that are more about hype than quality--good work, Mr. Kahn, in sending the message that that is what your restaurant is all about, even if it isn't.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:35 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, his hair looks really dirty in his bio picture. Not appetizing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:36 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, beware restaurants with "Manifesto" on their website.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I suppose Red Medicine is a better Fugazi album to name your restaurant after than Repeater or Steady Diet of Nothing.
posted by activitystory at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2010 [75 favorites]


I don't think I would want to go to a vietnamese restaurant not run by actual vietnamese (or chinese-vietnamese) people. (Feel free to consider me racist or whatever.)
posted by yeoz at 12:41 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, this is an interesting little episode. The cockiest restaurant enfant terrible would never have done this even ten years ago. It shows a hard line split between those who feel like food critics still have weight and those who don't - it's the same content question again, the legacy/new media split. Do we care about vetting, curation, vision? Or is Yelp and buzz good enough?

This makes me a little sad for some reason.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:47 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think I would want to go to a vietnamese restaurant not run by actual vietnamese (or chinese-vietnamese) people. (Feel free to consider me racist or whatever.)
posted by yeoz


It's not racist, but there's a chance you're missing out. I've been to many restaurants with a region theme to their food where the owner or chef were not of that ethnicity and had great food. It's good that we are to the point where non-Vietnamese people want to cook Vietnamese food because it's great food (and should be held in the same esteem as Italian or French cooking and treated accordingly).
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:48 PM on December 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


So... they found out (too late) that the LA Times restaurant critic had been kept waiting for 45 minutes, and came up with this fairly ingenious way to get out of the inevitable lousy review on the fly? Ballsy, anyway.
posted by rusty at 12:49 PM on December 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


I don't think I would want to go to a vietnamese French restaurant not run by actual vietnamese French (or chinese-vietnamese Swiss-French) people.

See how dumb that sounds?
posted by rusty at 12:50 PM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


You are not what you eat
posted by Flashman at 12:52 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ellis's reasoning was, "We didn't want her reviewing us...as we feel that her rating system isn't consistent and some of her reviews are unnecessarily harsh." That may or may not be fair. It would carry more weight if he had cited some examples.
posted by cribcage at 12:53 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, yet more Wikileaks fallout....
posted by warbaby at 12:53 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


yeoz, it's not really a Vietnamese restaurant. They're just working with some of the flavors and formats.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2010


I don't think I would want to go to a vietnamese restaurant not run by actual vietnamese (or chinese-vietnamese) people. (Feel free to consider me racist or whatever.)
posted by yeoz


I have to agree with haveanicesummer & rusty...

Top Chef Master Rick Bayless is a world renowned Chef who's specialty is Mexican Food...and he's a white guy. I'd sure love to go to his ristorante.
posted by Shfishp at 12:56 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


We didn't want her reviewing us, and we wanted anyone else she is going to review to have the benefit of knowing what she looks like, as we feel that her rating system isn't consistent and some of her reviews are unnecessarily harsh, which unfairly punishes the staff.

Well, you do have the right to refuse service to anybody. Of course, everybody's a critic nowadays, and at least there is a system of accountability in place, ho, Mr. Jordan Kahn, in dealing with Twitter user deselfleur, who declared "Can't wait until Red Medicine closes." Or Steve Weinstein, who wrote "I will not patronize this creepy chef." What about blogger Pardon my Crumbs, who wrote "we felt as though Red Medicine was trying a bit too hard to transform Vietnamese food into extremely upscale fare."

You don't get to dictate or control reactions to your food. Professionalism means rolling with the punches. You put your work out there, you take your licks, whether they are fair or not. It's PR 101: You only contradict a critic when they get their facts wrong. If you don't like their opinion, well, they're entitled to their opinion, just as with anybody who comes to your restaurant, all of whom now have mechanisms for publishing their reviews.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:58 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Best Yelp comment on the incident:


t e.
Chicago, IL
3 star rating
12/22/2010

I took my Nanna there two nights ago for her 70th birthday party and this squirrelly little guy darts out and takes her picture and says that she is a critic or something and then throws us out.

My Nanna had to have Chic-Fil-A for her birthday.

Very disappointing.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2010 [45 favorites]


shfishp, rusty, etc: you guys are talking about high-end concepts inspired by regional cuisines (which is what Red Medicine is). I think you would agree that it would be a little weird for some white American guy who'd never been to Vietnam to open a pho shop in the Vietnamese district, complete with chipped Formica tables and badly-translated menu. It would be weird, in fact, for an American-born person of Vietnamese descent to do so, aping the trappings of specific kind of place built by a different person with different resources. The concept and valuation of authenticity is strange and slippery.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:02 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do we care about vetting, curation, vision? Or is Yelp and buzz good enough?

What vetting curation and vision do you get from a restaurant review by a pro that you wouldn't get from an amateur? The restaurant reviews I read all are about the same. food was x, service was Y, loved W, hated Z. Sure the pro's are longer and better edited, but I think it's about the same results. At least for someone like me that's not as interested in where the sous chef worked before.

Also crowd sourcing has a higher sample rate due to numbers and so IMO gives a more accurate picture of an establishment. FWIW I use google to find places to eat all the time, based mainly on their review rankings. And I'm rarely disappointed.
posted by anti social order at 1:08 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


oh Los Angeles, how I wish I cared about you.
posted by Theta States at 1:09 PM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Does anyone take yelp reviews seriously? It seems like its either disgruntled overly entitled asshole customers or relatives of the owners and nothing in between.
posted by empath at 1:10 PM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


So, that Yelp wrath…

Would that be the Wrath of Kahn?
posted by klangklangston at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


From Kahn's bio: Frank Bruni of The New York Times compared Jordan to Jackson Pollock, and the New York Observer likened his dishes as Salvador Dali paintings.

Apparently, Kahn thinks this is praise.
posted by grounded at 1:13 PM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


The restaurateur has displayed some pretty bad judgment, in my opinion. Take that for what it is worth.

Now, if I were the competition, I'd quickly publicize that we welcome critics and critiques of our food and service.
posted by Xoebe at 1:14 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I suppose Red Medicine is a better Fugazi album to name your restaurant after than Repeater or Steady Diet of Nothing."

"I'll have the birthday pony."
posted by klangklangston at 1:16 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


"What vetting curation and vision do you get from a restaurant review by a pro that you wouldn't get from an amateur? The restaurant reviews I read all are about the same. food was x, service was Y, loved W, hated Z. Sure the pro's are longer and better edited, but I think it's about the same results."

First off, food critics go multiple times (at least three for the LA Times) and try a wide variety of dishes on the menu, something most of us have neither time nor money for. Second off, critics have a much broader experience and expectation regarding food, and are able to contextualize dishes in a way most amateurs aren't.

Frankly, even though I disagree with Jonathan Gold sometimes, he's a great writer and a great food critic — adventurous with a great palate and a sense of history about the dishes that he eats. He's unbiased, or upfront about his biases, and I've found more great places by reading his stuff than I have from trawling Yelp. This is especially true in LA, where everyone thinks their local pizza or Mexican joint is good, and it's hard to sort through the chaff.

Higher sample rate can't correct bad methodology in sample collection.
posted by klangklangston at 1:22 PM on December 23, 2010 [22 favorites]


I just want to say that 'Yelp Wrath' would be a great band name.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:26 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm all for fusion but these are the douches who thought Ho Chi Minh would make a great mascot for their vietnamese restaurant.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:29 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does anyone take yelp reviews seriously? It seems like its either disgruntled overly entitled asshole customers or relatives of the owners and nothing in between.

I think the day that I found out that a friend of mine who happens to manage and co-own a restaurant was creating fake accounts to trash a competing restaurant on Yelp and other food review sites was the day when I gave up on trusting the completely open internet for much of an opinion on anything.

Also, having spent the last four years of my life obsessed with reddit helped too.
posted by dubusadus at 1:30 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mr. Ellis kind of lost me when he called Ms. Virbila's reviews "irrational". That word really pings my "This is an a-hole." radar whenever I hear it, especially when applied to a woman. It's like the words "crazy" or "psycho": overused, dismissive, and rarely merited.
posted by Alison at 1:35 PM on December 23, 2010 [7 favorites]



I'm all for fusion but these are the douches who thought Ho Chi Minh would make a great mascot for their vietnamese restaurant.


He's a great mascot is Uncle Ho, reputed to have worked under Escoffier no less.
posted by the cuban at 1:40 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Does anyone take yelp reviews seriously? It seems like its either disgruntled overly entitled asshole customers or relatives of the owners and nothing in between.

My own favorite owner-astroturfed reviews on Yelp was the series of exhortations to RUN, DON'T WALK to the tapas place in my neighborhood (mediocre dishes, astronomical prices, weird ultra-formal table service completely at odds with the entire concept of tapas... but, admittedly, great setting and music) that repeatedly asserted (in all caps, natch) that the restaurant is the FIRST AUTHENTIC TAPAS EXPERIENCE TO BE BROUGHT TO AMERICA FROM SPAIN; MANY INTERNATIONAL CRITICS ACTUALLY CONSIDER [NAME REDACTED] BETTER THAN ANY TAPAS AVAILABLE IN BARCELONA OR ANY OTHER CITY IN THE WORLD.
posted by scody at 1:52 PM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Vietnamese French restaurants are super tasty.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Alison: “Mr. Ellis kind of lost me when he called Ms. Virbila's reviews "irrational". That word really pings my "This is an a-hole." radar whenever I hear it, especially when applied to a woman. It's like the words "crazy" or "psycho": overused, dismissive, and rarely merited.”

I understand the concern, and I agree that it's something to watch for. However, when was the last time you read a rational restaurant review? And isn't it common that reviewers get a bit snooty about reviewing restaurants, regardless of their gender? The guy went on to say that his objection was that she'd caused the firings of a number of restaurant staff unfairly. That's a concrete criticism, and one that doesn't seem to me to be based on gender.

Personally, I love this guy. Restaurant reviewers are notoriously capricious and frightening prospects in the dining world. There are a lot of people here saying that this is an indication that the restaurant's food didn't stand up to scrutiny, but that assumes that restaurant reviews represent some actual consideration of the quality of the food reviewed. Whereas, I have to say, I've read exactly one restaurant reviewer in my life who was reasonable, thoughtful, careful, fair, and actually talked about the food in a really thoughtful way. It's not an easy thing to do right, and the vast majority of people writing restaurant reviews, I think, are doing so on the basis of anything but the actual food. So: there's some part of me that enjoys seeing this happen, since the restauranteur has every right to do it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Noah Ellis is a coward. Reviews are part of the restaurant business. There was no reason to trash the writer's ability to do her job by posting her photo.
posted by 26.2 at 2:03 PM on December 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


You know, it's extremely hard for someone in a particular field to criticize critics of that field and not come over as a total dick.

This guy has definitely not succeeded.
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on December 23, 2010


I think rusty's nailed it: the perfect sleight-of-hand for those embarrassing times when you realize you've been keeping a high profile customer waiting an inordinately long time... Adds a little to the enfant terrible cred, and rids one of the potential problem in one swell foop. There are few critics of any stripe as pretentious as food critics, so any time I see a restauranteur spit in a food critic's Wheaties, as it were, I'm only too happy to cheer said owner on.

I don't understand why the Yelp connection is necessary or interesting... Who gives a shit what people on Yelp think? No one who's going to fork over the money to eat at Red Medicine is going to consult Yelp, for god's sake.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:08 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, when was the last time you read a rational restaurant review?

All the time. Devra First, for instance, who is my local restaurant reviewer, is a very detailed reviewer who talks in depth about menu selections and the preparation of specific items. I find her reviews extremely helpful.

If a restaurant, for instance, serves tiny portions or overcooks its meat or has terrible service or runs out of items or misdescribes stuff on its menu, I want to know about it. I think restaurant reviewers are generally pretty good at identifying problems like those. When it comes to more opinion-related matters about, say, whether molecular gastronomy is awesome or the devil, or whether fusion works or doesn't, I either pay attention or I don't.

It's like movie reviews or book reviews--you evaluate them based on how much you trust the reviewer and/or whether the review is internally consistent. Life is too short for everyone to try every restaurant, read every book, go to every movie, watch every TV show--good professional reviewers serve as guides to help navigate the marketplace.

There was no reason to trash the writer's ability to do her job by posting her photo.

I have never been in an upscale restaurant in the LA area without there being a dozen ladies who looked exactly like that dining nearby. Good for Ms. Virbila for having a very unmemorable to the point of anonymity self-presentation for her reviewing outings; I don't think most restaurants are going to toss out all the sixty-something white ladies with Palm Beach crash helmet hairstyles from now on (though "grandma had to have Chick-Fil-A for her birthday" was brilliant).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:15 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just want to say that 'Yelp Wrath' would be a great band name.

Actually, Yelp Wrath was a little-known Ian MacKaye side project.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:16 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Top Chef Master Rick Bayless is a world renowned Chef who's specialty is Mexican Food...and he's a white guy. I'd sure love to go to his ristorante.

Wait...why does he have an Italian place then?
posted by LionIndex at 2:19 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is Yelp Wrath like Nerd Rage for food people?
posted by sanko at 2:25 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil, that was his intent.

From the LA Times article, Ellis said he was intentionally trying to take away Virbila's anonymity because he does not like 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…"

posted by 26.2 at 2:28 PM on December 23, 2010


"I suppose Red Medicine is a better Fugazi album to name your restaurant after than Repeater or Steady Diet of Nothing."

Meh. Are the entries all $5?

Yeah, didn't think so.
posted by Skygazer at 2:29 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


26.2, I understand that was his intent. I just think he was an idiot, because she is not an idiot and has chosen a self-presentation so ubiquitous in LA as to be effectively anonymous. So many other people look like that that any restaurant that tossed out a patron on the basis of a resemblance to that photo would be foolish.

Go down to the "Literacy Gala" photos on this page and you'll see what I mean. In that photo, Virbila looks like Barbara Taylor Bradford's twin sister, and also a lot like Margo Howard and Susan Warner and various other rich sixty-something white ladies pictured there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:34 PM on December 23, 2010


Why even have critics? Of anything? I guess we all have unlimited parallel lives in parallel universes, and unlimited amount of time, where we can personally try every single restaurant, movie, play, musical performance, professional evaluation, and so on into infinity.

Critics/reviewers/evaluators exist to fill a need. Is it a perfect system? Hardly. There are bad critics, like there are bad anything. Yelp arose, because it was a way of filling the same need, but avoiding some pitfalls of professional critics, and in turn that approach has its limitations. At best, a critic can wade through the chaff and provide you with the first cut, and then it's up to you to make the final decision, but it's just not practical to say: try everything for yourself. If I land in a strange city for a few days, and have no idea where to get a decent meal, what are my choices? Random walk? I turn to yelp, and I try to glean some info - I have my algorithm of using yelp (disregard users with few or no other reviews, obvious nut cases, self-promoters etc.), but at least it gives me an overview. Hopefully, a critic of anything, food, literature, film etc. has spent a lifetime of study and is better equipped (theoretically), than the random Joe, just as you would be better at any task you devoted a lot of time to practicing. And if you read the critic and are familiar with their taste, you might be able to adjust the info in the review to suit your preferences.

So given that critics are filling a necessary function, I find it anti-consumer to lash out at one for no good reason, as these people have done. If a critic is unfair/uninformed, in due time, his reputation will suffer, and the restaurant will weather unfair or stupid criticism - just as films do. But films which bar critics, are usually turkeys.
posted by VikingSword at 2:37 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Awesome! I will never go to that restaurant now. Restaurants that are afraid of reviewers are generally shitty restaurants that are more about hype than quality....Also, his hair looks really dirty in his bio picture. Not appetizing.

I wouldn't eat it either, but it is pretty bold and avant-guard that he'd serve his own hair as a menu item. I think it's possible that a typical newspaper food review wouldn't be the best way to evaluate the merits of the food-as-modern-surreal-performance-art concept they're obviously going for.
posted by Hoopo at 2:50 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The roast kitten is excellent.
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a employee regular here so this review is long overdue! City Bistro is one of the best restaurants I ever ate at!

This restaurant is usually packed but you can call ahead to be put on the wait list. And if you drop in on a busy day/night, general wait time averages from 30-40 min wait or longer. On several occasions, I had to wait tables wait 30-40 minutes for a table but it was so worth it!

Some of the dishes I've tried and would recommend are the Roadhouse Burger, Fettuccine Alfredo, Turkey Club Sandwich and the desserts, mmmm! So tasty and delicious! Pricing is good, you can get tasty meals between $12 - $20, very affordable considering the large portions!

If you haven't tried the food here, you're missing out! City Bistro is perfect for both small and large groups, the food is delicious and comes in large portions and is extremely affordable! Everyone there uses exclamation points as much as I do, since it's such a fun place!

★★★★★ would work there again
posted by benzenedream at 3:17 PM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


She looks too much like a restaurant critic, that could be why she was made. I'm half serious here. I've dined with newspaper restaurant reviewers on reviews a couple of times. One team was a husband and wife who dressed down a bit to review an established fine dining place, the kind with "House" in the name. She wore a crocheted vest thing in odd colors over a blouse, he wore a short-sleeved dress shirt with no tie and polyester slacks. The service was skilled and polite and the food was worth the prices, and they received a good review.
posted by longsleeves at 3:29 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Vietnamese French restaurants are super tasty"

And their food is pretty good too.
posted by bwg at 3:33 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I contracted S. Irene Virbila once at a small burger joint in Indianapolis. Long, frustrating episode with lots of awkward moments in public.
posted by circular at 3:44 PM on December 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Speaking of vietnamese french restaurants, this has been bugging me for literally years. I ate at a Vietnamese-French place in Georgetown a few years ago and ordered a shrimp crepe. The dish was basically shrimp wrapped in a crepe and the crepe was covered with sauce.

The shrimp had shells on them. Is this normal and how is one supposed to eat that?
posted by empath at 3:52 PM on December 23, 2010


The shrimp had shells on them. Is this normal

No.
posted by benzenedream at 4:04 PM on December 23, 2010


The shrimp had shells on them. Is this normal and how is one supposed to eat that?

Very carefully.
posted by Skygazer at 4:11 PM on December 23, 2010


Rusty, with OneMonkeysUncle concurring, has the occam's razor take on this. They realized they had already made an enemy for life of this critic and sought a way to compartmentalize the damage. My brother-in-law who is a chef (exec chef where he works) mentioned this story in an email earlier in the day (he knows this Noah Ellis) He used the phrase "game changing" in the email.

Journalists and traditional media have had their gate-keeping roles eroded over the last ten and more years. Classifieds, movie critics, and hard news have adjusted or begun to adjust. Food and fine arts I think have not. They are clinging to their status hard. It is highly concentrated arbitrary power in most localities and highly resented. If a restaurant through a Tumblr weblog or by whatever means necessary can chip away at this they will.

I've read that another problem restaurants are having is the huge percentage of the profits than online reservation sites take. You either have full capacity and look good - making dollars on the table - or you've got empty tables.

Myself I'm submerged middle class and Fusion Cusine isn't in my world. I'll be at the chipped formica table yonder with a bowl of Pho. Thinking about a girl named Huyen-Tran,
with Fugazi on my iPod.
posted by Akaky at 4:39 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


> it is pretty bold and avant-guard[sic] that he'd serve his own hair as a menu item

Finally, right? It's Transcendental Cuisine ala Chez Robert!
SAMPLE MENU:

The Clear Camel Piss Soup with boiled Earth Worms

----

The Filet of Sun-Ripened Sting Ray
basted with Eau de Cologne and garnished with nettles

The After-Birth Supreme de Boeuf
cooked in drained crank case oil,
served with a piquant sauce of rotten egg yolks
and crushed bed bugs

----

The Limburger Cheese sugar cured in diabetic urine,
doused in Canned Heat Flamboyant...
posted by ostranenie at 4:46 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]



Does anyone take yelp reviews seriously? It seems like its either disgruntled overly entitled asshole customers or relatives of the owners and nothing in between.

This, to the maximum utmost. A Yelp review is the last thing I'd consider when choosing pretty much anything. And although the restaurateur is perfectly within his rights to refuse service to anyone, refusing service because a patron is a restaurant critic who may give his place a less than stellar rating is pretty flimsy reasoning. Although the publicity generated by his action may generate some business, in the long run I think he's shot himself in the clog.
posted by motown missile at 5:13 PM on December 23, 2010


The guy went on to say that his objection was that she'd caused the firings of a number of restaurant staff unfairly. That's a concrete criticism, and one that doesn't seem to me to be based on gender.

How is that her fault? A restaurant manager or owner can choose to fire or not fire an employee in response to a bad review. A reviewer has no control over that.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:17 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've read that another problem restaurants are having is the huge percentage of the profits than online reservation sites take.

There was a post last month about that with regard to Open Table, by far the biggest reservation site.
posted by mediareport at 7:23 PM on December 23, 2010


I suppose Red Medicine is a better Fugazi album to name your restaurant after than Repeater or Steady Diet of Nothing.

Going back to Minor Threat, I think Mr. Kahn is Guilty of Being White
and an asshole to boot.
posted by lukemeister at 7:38 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't even install a free Yelp on my Android or iOS device.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:54 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The guy went on to say that his objection was that she'd caused the firings of a number of restaurant staff unfairly. That's a concrete criticism...

Not really. "She wrote this review, and two days later the waiter, John Doe, was fired" would be a concrete criticism. If she's so terrible, it shouldn't be hard to substantiate these claims. Which of her reviews are unnecessarily harsh? Which led to staff being fired, and how does he know that happened?

This kind of substantiation would have gone a long way toward making Ellis's action look justified, and less reactionary or like some kind of a stunt. People have trouble understanding that specifics matter.
posted by cribcage at 8:09 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Local LA public radio show "Airtalk" had a good discussion about this today.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:08 PM on December 23, 2010


If she was anonymous, how did he recognize her?
posted by dobbs at 9:12 PM on December 23, 2010


Here's a(n even) more detailed account of the events:
The drama began Tuesday at 8 p.m. It was the restaurant's ninth night of serving dinner, Ellis said, and the kitchen was running behind.

Virbila, who had booked her reservation under another name, arrived promptly with her husband and two friends. They waited 20 minutes, then 30, then 40 — which didn't much bother her, Virbila said.

"The menu looked really interesting," she said. Besides, she was there "just to check it out. I wasn't writing a review that night."

While her party waited, Ellis and his partners were sneaking peeks, Ellis said. Management had talked about Virbila and her critical reviews of other eateries they'd been involved with. If she came, Ellis said, he and his partners had decided they would turn her away — and take her photograph.

So was this her? Ellis said he thought so and partner Adam Fleischman seemed even more sure. Once they had another confirmation from a customer, Ellis said, they decided to act.

He stepped up to about 6 feet from Virbila, pulled out his camera and grabbed a shot with flash.

Both Ellis and Virbila agree that in the ensuing conversation, Ellis told Virbila he knew who she was and that she asked him to delete the photo. Ellis declined and asked Virbila and her party to leave. They complied, but first Virbila had a question: Why had Ellis waited 40 minutes to turn her away?

"I was waiting for the right angle," he said. The photo was posted on the restaurant's website later that evening.

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:16 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


They better hope there's not a fan of her reviews in the Health Inspection department.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:28 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The shrimp had shells on them... the owner of a now defunct place in NYC told me she served them that way because "chitin is good for you".
posted by brujita at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2010


So what is preventing her from writing, rather than a the horror of horrors potentially negative review, a brief note that basically says, I tried to give this restaurant a review, but they are such unmitigated assholes that they threw me out, so in lieu of that, here's my review of their competitor? This does not exactly seem like an unforeseeable consequence. Good job, Team Red Medicine!
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:14 PM on December 23, 2010


I don't think I would want to go to a vietnamese restaurant not run by actual vietnamese (or chinese-vietnamese) people. (Feel free to consider me racist or whatever.)
posted by yeoz


Not racist, just sadly self-limiting.
posted by Decani at 12:17 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


$16 for a banh mi sandwich served as entree. $12 at the bar.

If I owned this place I too would worry about the reaction of a serious food writer at being presented with a $16 banh mi sandwich. That would have been one paragraph of food review that I would truly enjoy reading. What the dickens can you put in a small sandwich that you can get for $3 at any Vietnamese grocery store?
posted by zaelic at 6:00 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is that her fault? A restaurant manager or owner can choose to fire or not fire an employee in response to a bad review. A reviewer has no control over that.

No bad review, no firing. Not her fault perhaps, but probably wouldn't have happened but for her actions.

I have always been suspicious of the anonymous restaurant critic thing. It seems like some sort of theater designed to inflate the ego and reputation of the critic. About making the critic the story, and the restaurants mere fodder for their craft. Grist for the mill, if you will.

Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that it would be really hard to put on a convincing show for a "special" guest if the operation wasn't already up to the task. And that continued success depends on word of mouth much more than some gasbag in a newspaper. A skilled critic should be able to tell the difference between a performance put on for their benefit and a well executed restaurant operation.

It was a dick move, but I don't mind admitting to some schadenfreude. Live by the sword, die by the sword. He was just doing his own meta-review of her.
posted by gjc at 6:32 AM on December 24, 2010


I really don't see why all the fuss just because he owner tried to provide an authentic Vietnamese experience
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:19 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sensible way to get rid of her would have been to politely take her aside and explain that you accidentally figured out who she was and feel she would get biased service. Delicately explain that you don't feel like she would get the regular customer experience and see if you could pull some strings to get her a quick table with a hapless competitor for tonight... or of course you'd be happy to serve her, but really, it wouldn't be fair.

Or don't say anything and pull out all the stops. If the deck is stacked in your favour you're in a perfect position to get a great review with her none the wiser.
posted by Phalene at 8:20 AM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


In that photo, Virbila looks like Barbara Taylor Bradford's twin sister,

I think that's cos it is Barbara Taylor Bradford?

Those society pages are weird, but eye opening. It's like an old movie with only old people in color and not B & W. Anyhow, I couldn't find any pictures of I. Virbila.
posted by Skygazer at 10:47 AM on December 24, 2010


I wanna respond to a bunch of things individually in this thread but I'm too lazy to attribute everything.

Vietnamese people probably make Vietnamese food better than French people make Vietnamese food, but then again they could probably make French food better than they do, too, it would just be uglier and cost 1/20 as much.
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Hooray! Let's make this about gender because the person getting scorned happened to be a woman! I like this trend, metafilter!
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Yelp is fucking useless. Seriously. Look at that shit. If there was any better proof that yelp is treated like a battleground or a marketing conference, look at that yelp thread. Christ.
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The fact that any restaurant can refuse to serve any patron aside, refusing to serve a prominent critic should be -less- worthy of scorn than refusing to serve an unruly patron. You're not turning away a customer who wants to eat, you're simply not allowing a highly-paid professional to sell a piece about your restaurant. Clearly this is the kind of restaurant I'd hate (trying to upsell vietnamese food as haute couture is just sooooo gauche, great vietnamese food is exactly the opposite and is so much better) but I respect their motivation for turning out a critic who has a history of demolishing places like theirs and I don't hold it against them.
posted by tehloki at 11:02 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a site that is frequented by users who exhibit far better than average literacy, the number of comments in this thread that dismiss reading the opinions of entire communities (professional critics, amateur critics, the city of Los Angeles!) because of bias is remarkable.

I read reviews by professional writers. I read reviews by amateur writers. I take what I want from both. I find having access to more reviews rather than less to be a good thing. (e.g., professional reviews paired with reader comments are better than those that are not.)

In my experience, the volume of reviews in Yelp helps get closer to a certain statistical truth despite the likelihood of shills and/or the limitations of the reviewers (their prior experiences, their critical skills.)

I also find that professional writers can, using their experience and critical skills, really hone in on the truth of an experience. But professional writers are also biased. Not only are they writing for a specific reader in mind (who may or not be me), they are part of a world of relationships that is atypical for most consumers.

I would rather have access to fifty Yelp reviews where 10-20% are biased than just one where the probability of bias is beyond my grasp. But mostly I would rather have access to both!

There is no need to choose between professional critics and amateur critics; this is a false choice. Try "both and." Also, caveat lector. Always!
posted by noway at 11:14 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And now the restaurant is so punk rock that they've taken down the tumblr post about photographing/kicking Virbila out.

I find yelp reviews useful for some things and not so useful for others. Every thai restaurant has good reviews, even the crappy ones. Usually if I ignore numerous mentions of slow service, I regret it. Big name/newspaper reviewers also have their own perspectives. I can use my own powers of critical thinking to decide for myself!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:48 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Skygazer, I am comparing the photo of Virbila taken by Kahn to the photos of Bradford and Warner and Howard on that society page, just to point out the prevalence of her self-presentation among ladies of her age and economic cohort.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:49 AM on December 24, 2010


I respect their motivation for turning out a critic who has a history of demolishing places like theirs

That's not an accurate charge against Virbila, and indeed Kahn wasn't able to substantiate that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on December 24, 2010


I dont get the complaints about making Vietnamese food upscale. Almost every cuisine, no matter how refined, has a foundation of 'peasant food'. And every cuisine is capable of being made 'upscale' with better ingredients and more care taken with preparation and presentation.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sidhedevil: I am comparing the photo of Virbila taken by Kahn to the photos of Bradford and Warner and Howard on that society page, just to point out the prevalence of her self-presentation among ladies of her age and economic cohort.

Oh, I get it now. I looked through that whole thing looking for a photo of her. Durh.
posted by Skygazer at 12:42 PM on December 24, 2010


My fault, Skygazer! I wasn't clear enough.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:08 PM on December 24, 2010


No, no, Pshaw! I must insist that, it was indeed, my own hasty reading of your comment that is a fault here, what what!!

*Adjusts bowtie. Inserts Monocle.*
posted by Skygazer at 1:36 PM on December 24, 2010


Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that it would be really hard to put on a convincing show for a "special" guest if the operation wasn't already up to the task. And that continued success depends on word of mouth much more than some gasbag in a newspaper. A skilled critic should be able to tell the difference between a performance put on for their benefit and a well executed restaurant operation.

A skilled critic can ascertain a performance for their benefit just fine, that's not the issue. It's that the performance is a waste of the critic's time and the newspaper's money, since it is not indicative of the restaurant's operation. Anyone who's been a friend of the owner or chef knows how much polish some special attention can put on the overall experience.

If a restaurant has a consistently quality operation, a negative review won't tank it anyway. As you note, continued success requires word of mouth. (A quality operation, though, doesn't leave people with reservations hanging for 45 minutes.)

It was a dick move, but I don't mind admitting to some schadenfreude. Live by the sword, die by the sword. He was just doing his own meta-review of her.

Oh, please. He's the one who chose to go into one of the few professions even more fickle than journalism. The "meta-review" of a newspaper critic is whether the paper feels that her writing is getting papers sold. He just helped her reputed influence in that regard.
posted by desuetude at 6:07 PM on December 24, 2010


YOU TELL ME YOU LIKE THE TASTE
posted by stinkycheese at 12:06 PM on December 28, 2010


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