Monday, December 27, 2010

New York Times Food Critic Outed and Turned Away by Red Medicine Restaurant

Red Medicine restaurant in Beverly Hills is either nuts or genius. They spotted the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila in the house and then made her wait a good long time, snapped her photo and posted it online, and refused to serve her.

On the one hand, Red Medicine got some press off that snarky move. And, you know they say that any press is good press, although I could argue that one.

The flip side though is that you have to wonder . . . what are they hiding at Red Medicine if they can't serve a food critic - even one known to be a bit biting?

This story caught my eye, because I do some restaurant reviews and also have done some restaurant mystery shopping. This works out well for me, because I blend in easily and also change up my appearance all the time. One of my students saw several photos over the years and asked if I'm in the witness protection program. I had to laugh. No. I just work well as a canvas and can color my hair or get a cut and put on different clothes and look different but still bland enough not to set off any radars.

Frankly, I don't pay much attention to the big name critics on restaurants. Red Medicine may have pushed the envelope, but I suspect that many restaurant critics are spotted and then given better treatment and food than the average man or woman off the street. Of course, this would be SHHHHH. Let's just all play the game.

I enjoy checking out new restaurants and ones when we travel, and I am very sure that the Half Fast Cook is never pegged as a writer with an excellent palate (even if I joke around about food). I remember doing a mystery shop and invited a student at the college to be my guest. I asked her if I did anything to blow my cover. She about fell out in the parking lot and said, "Heck no. That was about the worst service ever, and I am sure they would have tried harder if they had known they were being graded."

Newspapers need to hunt up some better restaurant critics and ones that reflect the general population. Then, they'd have much better stories. In the meantime, you can find some very classic "real people" reviews of restaurants that are more reflective of what you might expect . . . unless you are a hot shot.

How will things sort out for restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila and for the new Vietnamese eatery - Red Medicine? Who knows and who really cares? The restaurant says that the critic is unfair in her reviews, and the critic says that she was not there to do a review. I'm not so sure either passes the sniff test.

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