1. Thursday, August 11, 2011

    LA Times food critic still camera shy even though the Cat is out of the bag 

    One of the more interesting traditions at the LA Times that I found charming was that it did an excellent job of keeping its food critic anonymous.

    You may have remembered that last year S. Irene Virbila (nom d’plume ) was “outted” by the co-owner of a Beverly Hills restaurant who took her picture because he was still angry at her for a negative review she gave his previous venture.

    The photo made the rounds, and her job of being an undercover critic was over. Her new career of being a known critic began.

    Some argued that after being an LAT food critic for 16 years, those with power already knew her face and would give her the special treatment she was attempting to avoid. The purpose of anonymity is to try to get the same service and quality of food that anyone would get.

    Nine months later Ms. Virbila finds herself at Santa Monica’s upscale Hungry Cat, the third incarnation of a swanky seafood joint (which recently was graced by Tom Hanks’ presence) and some blowhard whips out a camera and starts taking pictures of the veteran foodie’s three-story $eafood $pectacle which clearly tweaked the scribe:

    Four of us order the extravagant seafood platter one night. It takes a while to prepare, and when it arrives it’s a three-tiered affair loaded with several kinds of oysters, clams on the half shell, steamed mussels, chilled, perfectly cooked shrimp and more. At the very top sits a lobster and some Dungeness crab. We dig in. The fellow next to us is so smitten he has to take pictures (without asking). When we tell him we’d rather not be photographed, he lets slip the fact that he’s a restaurant critic. We still respectfully decline. He’s a bit miffed. Don’t you want to be in the paper? he asks.

    I’m pretty sure the Hungry Cat does not have fortune cookies. But if it did, it would be fun to slip Ms. Virbila this bit of wisdom I once received in a cookie after a particularly good meal:

    “What you resist, persists.”