Yelp Savages Red Medicine

Categories: News, Really?!?!?
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"Real people, real reviews," my hind foot.
Gustavo wrote on Wednesday about S. Irene Virbila being unmasked by the partners at Red Medicine; I agree with him, with the following clarification: the restaurant was perfectly within its rights to decline her review and her reservation. Posting her picture was pointless; people in the industry know what she looks like. All that will accomplish is that other diners will approach her or (probably needlessly) point her out to restaurateurs. She tends to review only higher-end restaurants, who are certainly aware of who she is.

What angers me most is the posting of the name and telephone number she made the reservation under. That it could be a fake name and a throwaway phone number is irrelevant; you don't post people's personally identifiable information without their permission. In Europe, it's illegal; it's only an indictment of our privacy laws here in the United States that it is not a crime here. It opens the gates to the legions of weirdoes on the Internet to call that number and harass someone who may simply have agreed to make the reservation for a dinner with friends. Posting that name and number was an atrocious breach of ethics.

Then there's the Yelp backlash. The Justice League of the Internet has banded together and they are savaging Red Medicine on Yelp, with dozens of one-star reviews that are either blatant fakes or outright denunciations of the recent news. "I can't come to bed yet, honey: someone needs my help on the Internet!" None of them have actually eaten in the restaurant; none of them have admitted the possibility that perhaps the restaurant is not staffed with incubi; perhaps the actions against the restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times is not indicative of the treatment of less-famous (or perhaps less-notorious) diners.

This reaction on Yelp is what angers me the most. Yelp is usually only useful as an aggregate of data; the people who actually know what they're talking about eventually cancel out the "I had a great time at my friend's birthday party and they sent out free dessert so five stars for you" and the "the server gave me a mean look so one star for you" people. A restaurant with a 4 1/2 star rating after 20 reviews is probably worthwhile; a restaurant with a 3 star rating after 20 reviews is probably pretty mediocre.

Occasionally there is a Yelper who shows that they know what they're doing, as evidenced by trying to specialities of a restaurant. If they order kibbeh at a Middle Eastern restaurant or vuelve a la vida in a Mexican seafood restaurant, I read their reviews and account them more value, in order to try and get the true sense of the place.

Then there are comments like these:

Yelper Cranky Greg M.: "I admit I haven't dined here, and won't now, after the owner outed and kicked out an L.A. Times food critic!"

So why did you click the "Write a Review" button?

Yelper Steven D: "I've never eaten here but am qualified to review it based on the ridiculous behavior exhibited by Red Medicine management toward restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila."

No, you're really not. You're qualified to review it after you've dined there and paid for it. You're probably not ever going to be qualified to review it in an unbiased way.

Yelper J C.: "But I would come and eat at this place if in LA and see what their food is all about."

So, upon reading the controversy, you decided the best place to go was not the Yelp forums, but the restaurant itself, which you gave five stars despite never having seen it?

When the actual reviews of a restaurant get lost in a sea of one-star "vengeance" reviews and five-star "rescue" reviews, I lose interest in Yelp as a medium for restaurant research and turn back to Chowhound; as meandering and scattershot as the restaurant reviews are there, the content is usually of a higher quality.

I haven't dined at Red Medicine; I don't eat up in LA very often and I'm not likely to go to an expensive Beverly Hills Viet-inspired place when Little Saigon is just a couple of miles away. Looking at the menu, I'd rather spend the money having Stephanie Dinh cook for me at S. I have had Jordan Kahn's food as he was fleshing out his menu at Test Kitchen (requiescat in pace), however, and it was not one-star or even two-star food. It doesn't seem to matter; as our friends in the PR business say, any publicity is good publicity, and the restaurant is heavily booked for the next week, which is pretty decent for a restaurant only open for eight weeks' time.

It doesn't make Noah Ellis's actions any less boorish, or the would-be Yelpers' actions any less a scourge of the food section of the Internet, though. Shame on you all.

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