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L.A. Times dining critic unmasked by irate restaurant staffers

Veteran Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbilia walked into the Beverly Hills restaurant Red Medicine the evening of Dec. 21 with three friends. She walked out an hour later with a shadow over her career after an incident that has sparked a nationwide discussion over the anonymity of restaurant critics.

Noah Ellis, a Red Medicine managing partner, learned that Virbilia was among diners waiting for a table. After letting her wait for 45 minutes past their reservation time, he photographed Virbilia.

She asked him to delete the picture, and he declined. Virbilia, who has spent the last 16 years reviewing restaurants for the Times, tries to remain anonymous.

But the next morning, Ellis published the photograph on the restaurant's Tumblr site, explaining that he was doing so to remove any pretense of anonymity.

“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," some of the accompanying text stated. "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." (The posting was subsequently removed.)

Reviews of the Red Medicine staff's actions were mixed, with most online commenters criticizing the restaurant, saying that it only hurt itself. A minority cheered the restaurant's actions, as leveling the playing field against meanspirited, uninformed reviewers.

Whatever the final verdict, Virbilia will continue reviewing restaurants, Times Food Editor Russ Parsons wrote.

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