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Critiquing The Critic (S. Irene Virbilia) [split from L.A. board]

Will Owen Jun 21, 2010 06:51 PM

"That makes it inaccurate journalism." I would suggest that any review of a live performance in any medium is by that definition "inaccurate", simply because, unlike a movie or recording, the action is going to be different any time it's done. And a restaurant is a much iffier medium than a play, although it's not unheard of that a play will open with a script that gets cut or added to down the road...

  1. J.L. Jun 23, 2010 12:33 AM

    That's actually not my beef with SIV. Her taste buds are just very different than mine.

    True, everyone's experience at an eatery will inherently contain a degree of variability, much like attending a live performance (and if the restaurant is consistent, I dare say even less variability than a live performance).

    BUT... people reading a restaurant review by a widely-known critic such as SIV will expect a somewhat accurate "big picture" of what to expect, should said reader show up at that restaurant.

    6 Replies
    1. re: J.L.
      Will Owen Jun 23, 2010 06:42 PM

      I'm also wondering if the Times might be pushing her to do The Definitive Review of the New and Hot, when most restaurant reviewers of my acquaintance have based their first reviews on at least three trips, only one of them within 30 days of opening. Or is that kind of careful journalism passé everywhere? Reviewing a brand-new restaurant is akin to road-testing a pre-production prototype, one with the dashboard instruments painted on and no AC.

      1. re: Will Owen
        Papuli Jun 23, 2010 11:47 PM

        No, the LA Times is not. You'll find that her reviews of restaurants are titled as such: "The Review: Patina," "The Review: La Vida," etc. Those are the restaurants she has visited at least three times with different groups of at least four people. When she's writing about a newer place she hasn't visited as much, the piece is called "Early Bird." Those articles are also about half the word count of the reviews, and do not have photo galleries. They are two different types of articles.

      2. re: J.L.
        AAQjr Jun 23, 2010 09:32 PM

        She does the same, at least when she's reviewed places I've worked at, 3 + visits, different names group sizes, days. Sometimes she'll do a 'first look' type article after one visit, but not a full review. I feel that she is pretty spot on if you go by what is written, not just stars. She's been pretty well respected as a tough grader in most kitchen I've been in. Personally I prefer her reviews to J.Gold. But I guess this is veering off topic.

        1. re: AAQjr
          carter Jun 23, 2010 09:50 PM

          Agree totally. Do feel this commentary she wrote on Red-O was in essence a first impression, and that a full review will be out in a month or so.
          But I do feel she reviews a restaurant the way I want to comprehend the place, not the way some publicist wants me to know the place.

          1. re: carter
            Will Owen Jun 25, 2010 12:10 PM

            I think you're right about that, and that's why I trust her whether I agree ultimately with her assessment or not. It's HONEST journalism, which ought to be valued more highly than one's agreement with the opinions expressed. She goes in with eyes open and her pencil sharpened, and tells us exactly what she saw and tasted.

            There's a much less experienced but otherwise similar reviewer in Nashville (which I can mention now that we've changed Boards!) whose work I admired, and occasionally defended when she exposed some Sacred Cow as Bad Pig, rilin' up the White Limo crowd no end. Her review work even sometimes came close to investigative journalism, such as the case of the "famous" restaurateur whose veal apparently was sourced frequently from pigs. I did not admire her determined, even proud avoidance of any sort of innards, nor her loathing for chicken salad made with anything other than breast meat. But those are questions of taste, not integrity.

            1. re: Will Owen
              hnsbmg Jul 29, 2010 04:44 AM

              I LIKE Sherry Virbila's work and think Will has captured it well -- "She goes in with eyes open and her pencil sharpened, and tells us exactly what she saw and tasted."

              Virbila is certainly not a brilliant writer (or humorist) in the manner of the great, nearly forgotten Seymour Britchky in New York, but she reminds me of my best food-loving technical colleagues with her businesslike attitude and pursuit of the explainable feast. AAQjr mentioned JGold: except on occasion, I don't like his overwritten alternative-newspaper style -- Gustavo with wits -- but do admire the man's knowledge, enthusiasm, and evident decency. Where the money hits the table, however, I trust SIV's taste and focus.


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