Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time to take your medicine..

One of the nice things about writing for myself, is that I have the freedom to write about whatever I want. Today, I feel like editorializing about some shenanigans that took place last week at one of Los Angeles' newest restaurants: Red Medicine. I suppose that I could try to let it go, however, I find myself unable to. One could argue that I'm not qualified to speak on the topic, but I would argue back that I've done my time in the food service industry, enough to know that this was wrong. So let's just get down to brass tacks.

If you haven't heard what happened last week between the 16 year LA Times Food Critic and Red Medicine and you read my blog, either you're a family member or you live under a rock. Last Wednesday, during what managing partner of Red Medicine Noah Ellis says was 'a particularly hairy service', Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila came in for her reservation. She was on time, and rather than pull diva antics, waited patiently for her table for 45 minutes before a camera was shoved in her face to snap a photo. This was before she was asked, not so politely, to leave. After her departure, the rare photo (aka unicorn sighting) was posted on the Red Medicine website with the following manifesto (since removed): 

Tonight, in the middle of a particularly hairy service, Irene Virbila arrived for her reservation (4 people under the name "Fred Snow" with a phone number of 310-xxx-9959), and because we had guests lingering, were not able to sit immediately.

She was recognized, and at while standing by the door, I was able to take this photo of her. At this point, I asked her and her party to leave, as we don't care for her or 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, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs -- we don't feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.

Upon asking her to leave, her husband and dining companions were quite upset, and made mention that this may be illegal and was cruel and unfair. Obviously, she was not discriminated against as part of any protected class, but rather because she is someone we choose not to serve here.

We're writing this to make everyone aware that she was unable to dine here, and as such, any retribution by her or on her behalf via a review cannot be considered to be unbiased.

We hope that those of you in the industry will support us by coming by for a late-snack or drink (the story is told much better in person), and will use this recent picture to your benefit.

While a restaurant does have the right to refuse service to anyone, usually 'anyone' has just cause besides not liking what someone would possibly, maybe, perhaps write about them. Just cause usually includes being verbally abusive to staff, being overly intoxicated, or in the case of one particular LA blogger, whom shan't be named, a shit talker of astounding proportions. Generally, refusing service to a food critic doesn't happen. Unless you're Red Medicine and you have your diapers in a wad because of an old review of your desserts at XIV (from which executive chef Jordan Kahn hails from).
After this all went down, I looked up some old reviews of the shunned critic and was surprised to see nothing that stood out as being 'cruel'. Calling Kahn's dessert, the 'worst she's ever tasted' was the suggested motive, however it's the not scathing review I would have expected to have received this amount of vitriol in return. Had she said that her dog could have defecated on a plate and served to her still steaming, and it was better than Kahn's dessert, now that, my friends, that would have warranted some of this nonsense. 

I say some, because I believe while you may refuse service to whomever you like, waiting 40 minutes to take someone's picture because you were 'waiting for the right angle' screams vengeance.  Really? You recognized her 5 minutes in, planned your mode of attack, and needed additional time to pull it off? Oh, you fucking tool. While Virbila has been striving to maintain her anonymity in the day and age of camera phones and food paparazzi, her statement to her employers at the LA Times was rather blas√©, noting that higher profile food critics have long since been 'outed' with little to no effect. 

Had this happened not 15 years ago, her career would be damaged. Today, not so much. But it's the fact that this was the intent of Red Medicine, to damage her career as they have claimed she has damaged others. An eye for an eye. Only, I have yet to hear of anyone coming forward whose career has been damaged by Virbila. Lost jobs? Would someone please step forward? I would love to know who has lost their job solely because of the 'cruelty' of her reviews. 

RM's excuse, to me, is Swiss cheese. And not even the good kind. I'm talking, stanky, moldy, mad cow cheese. Personally, I think they lack the confidence needed to survive in this world. Most restaurants in their position would roll up their sleeves and give her an amazing meal, because they know that their food will speak for itself and if it doesn't, then they deserve what happens next. But, they don't want it reviewed. During their Test Kitchen run, it was rumored that Kahn was against the camera toting foodies as well. Well, Test Kitchen is over, but Kahn still hates the cameras as proven by what he wrote on Kevin Eat's menu.

To all this I ask: what the hell are you afraid of? Okay, yes, he's a white boy serving Vietnam influenced food and telling us not to compare it to Vietnamese food. In fact, white boy has never even been to Vietnam, or, from what I can tell, worked in a Vietnamese restaurant.  If your eyes are bugging out and your mouth is agape, you're not alone. I don't get it either. According to the 'manifesto' on their website, eating large bowls of pho qualifies you to create your very own take on an ethnic cuisine and then serve it in small quantities whilst overcharging the patrons for it. But please, no pictures! I'm sorry, if someone rear ends me, I'm taking a picture of the damage.  My friend Kung Food Panda did. 

There are some reports saying the reactions to this debacle are mixed. If mixed is 90:10 against Red Medicine, then yes, they're mixed. The ones that are for it, in my humble opinion, are just jumping on the douche wagon. CJ from The Yard in Santa Monica thinks it's 'positive for the future of LA food'. I would love for him to elaborate on how it's in any way positive. On top of looking like total douches, they look afraid. Sack up ladies.  Anyone reading newspaper critics reviews, in an age where newspaper circulation is on the decline, knows that taste is subjective and only used that review as a starting point. If it wasn't for critics and the press, your restaurant would be just another in a sea of restaurants, doomed to fail within the first two years of business. 

Have I been to Red Medicine? Nah. Wasn't on my radar after the Test Kitchen reviews came out (people left hungry and vastly disappointed). Am I inclined to go now? No fucking way. What they've done is petty, childish, and to use one of their own words: cruel. Sure, there are plenty of people on the books for the next several weeks. Everyone looks at the wreck on the freeway. You just can't help it. But eventually the wreck gets cleared and all you have left is a totaled car on a flatbed while everyone else passes by.


  1. Haha, nicely put! I'll stick to Little Saigon or SGV for my Vietnamese cravings. Besides, one meal at RM could equal 10 meals at authentic Vietnamese places.

  2. They could've used the opportunity to wow her or prove her wrong but they didn't want to get their feelings hurt.

    It's funny that they love Bruni but not virbila, even though Bruni said basically the same thing virbila said. But he was much nicer/eloquent about it (perhaps they are stupid and can't understand what he's saying as well...which makes sense). Also noah is a club promoter. Not a restaurant guy. Thats why you get this 'tude. and of course jordan stages at a few restaurants and everyone in LA fluffs his ego. I can go to french laundry for 3 months and peel veggies all day and put it on my resume, like most hacks do

  3. Agreed completely! Well put, Kdub!

  4. The Red Medicine guys are a joke. Jordan is a kid who doesn't even respect Vietnamese cuisine enough to know anything about it.Love this post.No mercy for the wicked.