Los Angeles Times Food Critic Unmasked: But Is Anonymity Realistic Anymore?

By Daniel Fromson
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By now, there's a good chance you've heard about Noah Ellis's papparazo-like snap and tell, which, with a little help from Gawker, Eater, and even CNN, has divulged the appearance of Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila for all to see. The Los Angeles restaurateur, of modern Vietnamese restaurant Red Medicine, took a photo of Virbila and denied her service because of what he alleges are scathing reviews that have cost friends jobs, and the once-anonymous critic has now been cast into the spotlight.

All of which has let to some healthy debate. Is it still reasonable for restaurant critics to expect anonymity in the Internet age? Here's the LA Times itself describing the incident and the ensuing discussion:

Los Angeles Times restaurant critic 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.

"I 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," Virbila said Wednesday.

Virbila was rebuffed, Red Medicine managing partner Noah Ellis said, because "Irene is not the person any of us wanted reviewing our restaurant. ... This was not a rash decision."

By Wednesday afternoon, the photo of Virbila was posted on several blogs and websites, including the much-viewed Gawker.com and Eater.com. Virbila's anonymity, which she'd guarded through 16 years as this newspaper's restaurant critic, was a memory. And among foodies, the debate over anonymity -- is it still possible or even advisable for a restaurant critic? -- was on.

Read the full story at The Los Angeles Times.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/12/los-angeles-times-food-critic-unmasked-but-is-anonymity-realistic-anymore/68482/