The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Red Medicine bans L.A. Times food critic, calls HER irrational

December 22, 2010 |  7:28 pm

RuthReichl It’s a truism of the entertainment industry that a movie must be a real stinker when it's rushed into theaters before a round of reviews.

That wouldn't be the dynamic at play at Red Medicine, the Beverly Hills restaurant, would it? The Vietnamese fusion joint booted out my colleague LA Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila this week and posted a notice on the Internet that suggested other restaurants might consider doing the same.

The Times’ assistant food editor, Rene Lynch, explains how the restaurant’s managing partner, Noah Ellis, gave Virbila and her three companions the hook on Tuesday. Ellis also took Virbila's picture, without her permission, and posted it on the restaurant’s Tumblr site.

Many restaurant critics work hard to maintain their anonymity to assure they are treated like any other customer. In her book “Garlic and Sapphires,” then-New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl (left, who also once worked at the L.A. Times) described the elaborate costumes and tactics she used to avoid being recognized by restaurateurs.

Red Medicine boss man Ellis said he outed Virbila this week so that other restaurants can decide whether they want the likes of her around. “We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational…," he wrote.

Times editors defended Virbila, who has been at the paper for 16 years, as one of the top restaurant critics in America. (I've never met Virbila and hadn't laid eyes on her until her photo whipped around the Internet.)

Much of the initial response to the restaurant’s action has not been kind: “Would you ever go to a restaurant where people are photographed and kicked out for expressing their opinions about the food like you or I do here on Yelp?.... I'm disgusted,” Garry G. of West Hollywood wrote on Yelp.

So what’s next? Movie makers banning the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern from the screening room because he might be too tough? Locking the Disney concert hall doors to L.A. Times classical music critic Mark Swed?

It’s tempting to say to Ellis, if you can’t take the heat. . . . Better yet, defenders of legit criticism might band together as one, "Spartacus" style, and make future reservations (if they must) at Red Medcine with one voice: "I am Sherry Virbila. I am Sherry Virbila."

— James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: This is NOT S. Irene Virbila. The photo is of Ruth Reichl, the noted food critic, who has worked at the L.A. Times, New York Times and Gourmet magazine. Reichl went to great lengths to disguise her identity so restaurants wouldn't give her favored treatment. L.A. Times critic Virbila was outed this week by a restaurant executive. Credit: Richard Drew / Associated Press.