As promised, the fallout of the unmasking of Los Angeles Times food critic S. Irene Virbila has prompted more critical naval-gazing. This time, the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly critic Jonathan Gold take on anonymity, in theory and in practice.
Gold comes in on the side of anonymity, saying that without it critics would "be feted with rare wines, exquisite nibbles and a level of hospitality unavailable to diners equipped merely with their wit and a working American Express card." In other words, anonymity allows the critic to experience a restaurant as would its average customer. Gold, it should be noted, was outed when a picture of him drinking wine was circulated after he won the Pulitzer in 2007. In fact, he doesn't try for anonymity anymore and appears at public events. So, does that mean he's been feted with rare wines and exquisite nibbles for the past three years?
The Los Angeles Times article is slightly more utilitarian, in that they explain how they will go on now that Virbila can be recognized: by pretty much pretending it never happened and continuing to make reservations in fake names, giving random call-back numbers, and using different credit cards.
However, there is one very interesting point brought up by former Washington Post critic Phyllis Richman, who suggested that anonymity could create castes within the restaurant world: "Until now, probably the only restaurants that didn't know what Virbila looked like were the mom-and-pop places that aren't part of the big-money inner circle. Now, the playing field is level."
Discuss! Is critic anonymity a great equalizer, making the critic a spokesperson for the average consumer? And could that possibly be at the expense of some restaurants, but not others?