- Stephanie G. Jan 2, 2001 01:57 AM
Reading food reviews has always been an odd hobby of mine, even though I don't really get a chance to try all these restaurants. Granted, I'm a student in Boston now, but I can still access the LA Times and the Chowhound site!
I've read many of S. Irene Virbila's reviews these few years, and I was just wondering...what do you all think of her taste and work so far? Is she a reliable source?
Boy, this is an interesting can of worms! First off, let me suggest a very good book about restaurant criticism, _Dining Out_ by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.
I can't say that I'm ever thrilled by S.I. Virbila's reviews. However, I also felt that way about Ruth Reichl when she worked for the L.A. Times. Once Ms. Reichl moved to the N.Y. Times, I finally saw how brilliant she was.
Maybe it's just the editors at the L.A. Times but Virbila's reviews are formulaic and not very exciting. Nonetheless, I don't question her taste or integrity when it comes to the evaluation of a restaurant.
Still, it's one hell of a lot more fun to read Meredith Brody, in New Times L.A. (also available on the web), when you want to truly enjoy reading about a restaurant experience by someone who seems to know what it's all about.
re: Bob Brooks
Well, IMHO, I'm not too fond of Ms. Virblia as a food critic. She seems to frequent all the hip and trendy places, most of which are in the Hollywood and west side areas. If you read her enough, you wouldn't know that places like the San Gabriel Valley existed. In some reviews, she seems to receive preferential treatment at restaurants, even from celebrity chefs, that normal people wouldn't hope to expect.
In a recent article that she decribes the "Cream of the Crop" includes Pause, which went out of business after 3 months (I've been there, it was expensive and not very good), and Josie, which hasn't even opened yet. I suppose she's not a economic or business expert and not expected to predict a restaurant's success, but she also decribed these very two restaurants in the Los Angeles Times Magazine article titled "A Food Lover's Feast" way back in June! My point is that she seems to gush over and pay special attention to restaurants that characterize a certain style or attitude. I think there are much too many good restaurants and too little printing space to waste like that.
Ms. Virbila has a very good journalistic style, and probably an impeccable palate. She rates restaurants on a system up to four stars, and I never noticed her give a restaurant that much. So it's good that she's discriminating. I must admit that I do read just about every review that she does. But no matter what restaurant, she always goes for a steak, which isn't a bad thing, it does get tiring.
So personally, I don't find her very reliable since she seems biased towards the hip and hyped restaurants. If you read the very first page of chowhound.com, she represents foodies, which is everything chowhounds are not.
Irene Virbila is generally OK but not when a dish has truffle oil (she automatically hates it) or is sweet (she will say it was cloying). I have seen this dozens of times over the years. I think the biggest problem with reviewers in LA and maybe everywhere else, is that the chefs own many restaurants and when they are in the house the food is great but when they are not it is inferior. I have seen this too many times. For example, I recently had dinner at Remi in Santa Monica and all 4 courses were superb. I also had dinner at Joe's in Venice (one of my favorite restaurants)and was disappointed. Joe was not there that night. Remi was better than usual, in fact it was astounding. I even had them pair the food with wines and 3 out of 4 courses were perfect pairings.
With this inconsistancy it is hard to duplicate the experience of the critic.
Meredith Brody is amusing but frequently gives great ratings to restaurants that have lots of heart and charm but poor food (Just Like Home Cafe in Marina Del Rey, Angel's in Venice).
When I was in college (class of '95) I loved reading restaurant reviews of places I couldn't afford! I'd save for a few weeks then splurge on a place like Campanile.
Irene Virbila's palate is impeccable and I think her reviews do a great job of capturing atmosphere. And as far as the guy who thinks she only likes "hip" places, she turned me on to a BBQ joint in a tiny Culver City diner space run by an old woman and her son where I had a near-religious experience.
re: No name for now
I'm OK with it. The star system should remain in the spirit of the michelin guide. The food is great and I go there all the time. But should it get the same stars as a place with an expensive, beautiful space, teams of waiters and magical atmosphere? I don't think so. One and a half stars recognizes the achievement of the food, and if someday they decide to build some luxurious House of Blues-style palace they'll probably get that extra star. (but I don't think they should change a thing).
What's the shame in eating at a 1 1/2 star gem?
You shouldn't get a star just for opening your doors- one star is an achievement!
PS to Irene: I like my cornbread a little dry...
She's a snob like most L.A. Times food critics; seems to be more interested in busting her expense account than in finding restaurants for the people. My favorite example of where she's coming from was the column in which she admitted she didn't know (or figure out, evidently) what chili cheese fries are.