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Let's Talk LaBan


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Mr. LaBan might not be anonymous for much longer according to PW.

http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/articles/14865

I know this is off-topic, but this article makes me wonder if Craig LaBan is his real name or a pseudonym. It seems to me that it would be much easier to remain anonymous by writing under a pseudonym instead of his real name.

I mean, he must get mail, use a credit card and have a bank account. If his real name is John Smith and he writes under the name Craig LaBan, then none of those things matter. How does he keep his next door neighbors from knowing who he is? And if he goes to a restaurant like Lacroix for 3 visits in a a 1-2 week timespan, tries just about everything on the menu and pays cash, aren't they going to notice?

How easy is it to get a credit card in a fake name? Since the Patriot Act and the increase in identity theft, I imagine it's very difficult.

Basically, I am thinking about this because I wonder if after being "unmasked," he can just pick up and move to a new city and start writing under a new pseudonym and no one will know that "Greg Level" is really "Craig LaBan" who is in actuality, "John Smith."

-- Alec

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Mr. LaBan might not be anonymous for much longer according to PW.

http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/articles/14865

I know this is off-topic, but this article makes me wonder if Craig LaBan is his real name or a pseudonym. It seems to me that it would be much easier to remain anonymous by writing under a pseudonym instead of his real name.

I mean, he must get mail, use a credit card and have a bank account. If his real name is John Smith and he writes under the name Craig LaBan, then none of those things matter. How does he keep his next door neighbors from knowing who he is? And if he goes to a restaurant like Lacroix for 3 visits in a a 1-2 week timespan, tries just about everything on the menu and pays cash, aren't they going to notice?

How easy is it to get a credit card in a fake name? Since the Patriot Act and the increase in identity theft, I imagine it's very difficult.

Basically, I am thinking about this because I wonder if after being "unmasked," he can just pick up and move to a new city and start writing under a new pseudonym and no one will know that "Greg Level" is really "Craig LaBan" who is in actuality, "John Smith."

-- Alec

In order: as far as I know, he does not keep his neighbors from knowing who he is; the rest of your objections are covered by the fact that, as I understand it, he does not make the reservation himself, goes in a group, and, I expect, pays in cash. I have no direct experience of any of this, mind you, but I do know a couple of people who regularly participate in the process.

I have wondered myself if he uses his real name. I've been told he does, but it strikes me that I wouldn't want to do it that way, if I were in his position.

In any case, given that there is, supposedly, a photograph of him hanging in many kitchens in town, I expect that full exposure would mostly mean that his disguise budget would need to go up.

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While he may wear disguises while reviewing, on the three occasions I've seen him in restaurants doing reviews he was not in disguise. I believe the disguises are worn when he's making public appearances. Think about it: if he believes himself to be anonymous while dining then there's no need for a disguise, only when he's drawing attention to himself by attending an event with his name on the program would he need to be under cover.

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He most always utilizes a disguise, unless he trusts that he is not at all known to the restaurant, as in a distant suburban place, or an ethnic restaurant.

Rich Pawlak

 

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As I say, one the three occasions I've had the pleasure of hosting him (at 2 different restaurants) he has not been in disguise. I know this because he lives around the corner from me and I see him frequently. Guess he always felt comfortable.

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Very interesting analysis of new developments in the Chops v. Laban lawsuit over at Philafoodie.

Apparently the restaurant owner has conceded that Laban did not order a "steak sandwich without the bread" but in fact a "Steak Frites." The exact cut of meat used there is still not clear, but it's Laban's assertion that it was billed as strip steak by the waiter.

The other interesting twist is the plaintiff insisting on a videotaped deposition of Laban, possibly resulting in his face being shown in open court.

Several good points brought up by Philafoodie about the various parties' possible motivations, and potential messages embedded in legal language.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Some thoughts about a food critic being recognized:

1. Chances are that, as rumored, Laban's pics are out there hanging on some kitchen walls. This always seems to be the case, no matter how protective the critic is of his appearance. Does that give a bad restaurant, which happens to recognize Laban because of a pic on their wall and therefore gives him much better food and service than the typical diner, an unfair advantage over a good restaurant whom has no idea that Laban is gracing their dining room. Would not a recognizable critic level the playing field?

2. In court the Inquirer argued, “Craig LaBan’s photographic or video image, as well as the methods he uses while reviewing restaurants, meet the definition of trade secrets … Keeping this information secret assists Mr. LaBan in performing his job and thus has economic value to him. His anonymity allows him to better assess what the average customer will be served because the restaurant does not know the meal is being reviewed by the Inquirer.” If a critic's anonymity is so essential, must that critic resign once people start recognizing him? Would it be unethical to continue critiquing restaurants once the critic is recognizable?

3. On the other hand, a known critic in the dining room creates added stress in both the kitchen and the dining room. Turn-out and service during a mealtime rush is already extremely high stress. A critic in the dining room could be the straw that throws a kitchen and service staff, even a very competent kitchen and service staff, into the weeds resulting in an atypically poor meal service and critic experience.

4. A review can have two purposes that could but don't necessarily merge into a single purpose. The review relates the critic's actual dining experience. The review may or may not accurately portray a restaurant's ability to consistently provide good dining experiences. A review that does the latter gives the potential diner much better information than a review that merely relates a critic's actual dining experience. My experience has been that one can gather a more realistic feel of a restaurant's capabilities and consistency by being the fly on the wall during a couple of meal services - spending most of one's time in the kitchen and some in the dining room observing. A kitchen turning out a hundred or two hundred meals a service isn't going to be able to clean up its act just because Craig Laban is standing in the corner watching.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I think I'm going to have to be the dissenting opinion on Tinto. LaBan seemed one step closer to God with each bite, but we went in for dinner there not too long ago, and it really didn't do much for me. Two things that I really loved was the dish of kobe beef and a truffled poached egg in consomme, which was outstanding, and also the La Peral blue that was on the cheese plate - wow is that good cheese.

On the flip side, a loser for me was the mussels. You can find some really good pots of mussels in this town, and after some of those, this tiny crock of mussels was a bit of a let-down.

Generally, the food was quite good, but in the end, I couldn't shake the feeling that we just dropped 250 beans on a bottle of wine and some appetizers. I wouldn't mind going back to sit at the bar and just have that kobe dish with a glass of wine... but beyond that, I'm just not that into it.

Sorry... I feel that I've blasphemed... I need to go beat myself with a scourge now...

__Jason

Edited by guzzirider (log)
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Providing yet more evidence for the variation of personal impressions: I specifically loved the mussels at Tinto. Our impressions were pretty similar to LaBan's, we had lots of wow moments, and didn't feel like we spent a fortune.

I wonder if it was the general sense of Tinto's quality, or a sense of what LaBan likes, that led Foobooz voters to overwhelmingly correctly guess the 3-Bell review ahead of time....

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Mr. LaBan's legal woes have made it all the way to coverage on CNN.

Lawsuit Could Unmask Food Critic

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Mr. LaBan's legal woes have made it all the way to coverage on CNN.

Lawsuit Could Unmask Food Critic

Verrrrry innnnterrrresting.

Today's Inquirer contains the same Associated Press story in its feature section.

Wonder why the Inky used an AP story about one of its own staffers instead of doing its own story?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Verrrrry innnnterrrresting.

Today's Inquirer contains the same Associated Press story in its feature section.

Wonder why the Inky used an AP story about one of its own staffers instead of doing its own story?

Because, if given a choice, a newspaper would rather have an outside party, presumed unbiased, write the piece?

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Because given a choice, an AP story is cheaper than a staff written story. Last week the Inquirer ran a story on the lines for the iPhone and used an AP photo of a New York City store with a waiting line rather than sending a photographer to a local one. So many times the Inquirer, even under its new local ownership, will run stories with local angles and simply run the AP story and pics.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Mr. LaBan's legal woes have made it all the way to coverage on CNN.

Lawsuit Could Unmask Food Critic

Verrrrry innnnterrrresting.

Today's Inquirer contains the same Associated Press story in its feature section.

Wonder why the Inky used an AP story about one of its own staffers instead of doing its own story?

Because: When the paper publishes a review of a book written by a staffer, for example, it uses a wire review or a review written by a non-staffer. (Capaneus understands.)

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Verrrrry innnnterrrresting.

Today's Inquirer contains the same Associated Press story in its feature section.

Wonder why the Inky used an AP story about one of its own staffers instead of doing its own story?

Because, if given a choice, a newspaper would rather have an outside party, presumed unbiased, write the piece?

Not to mention they are party to the suit in addition to LeBan. But the issue of how to cover stories about media and how they are covered is an interesting one. For a current example of this outside of the dining world you might look at how the Wall Street Journal has covered how Newscorp is trying to buy the WSJ (and all of the Dow Jones media companies.) They are relying on outside coverage and are making sure they are not the first one to break a story for fear of looking like they are in possession of some non public information.

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Any of the attorneys on here with expertise in tort law want to opine on whether Laban could have a claim/countersuit against Plotkin?

1L Torts seems like a long, long time ago...

"I've been served a parsley mojito. Shit happens." - philadining

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I'm not an attorney, but this whole thing is looking weirder, because LaBan, not surprisingly, has receipts for what he ordered, which was clearly a steak of some sort, not a steak sandwich as originally claimed by Chops. So the argument about exactly what kind of steak seems like pointless hairsplitting at this point, and we have no real way of knowing what the waiter called it, or for that matter, what piece of meat actually showed up on the plate, regardless of what the restaurant usually uses for a "steak frites." I've gotten parsley in a mojito, you know, things happen...

It's hard to imagine a court finding intentional malice in such a small distinction. But then, I'm not an attorney.

To a layperson, the plaintiff's insistence on a videotaped deposition seems like either a mean-spirited threat, applied in an attempt to force a settlement fully separate from the merits of the case, or merely petty retribution.

Whether a threat like that against LaBan's ability to do his job effectively is practically actionable, I have no idea, but it looks like bad karma to me.

Is that really the vibe a restaurant wants to have out in the media? If we don't like your review, we'll sue you, and threaten your ability to make a living? Legalities aside, seems like a bad plan for getting any more press, ever.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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To a layperson, the plaintiff's insistence on a videotaped deposition seems like either a mean-spirited threat, applied in an attempt to force a settlement fully separate from the merits of the case, or merely petty retribution.

My legal advisor informs me that videotaped depositions are becoming more and more common. It seems likely that insisting on one is a way to put pressure on the Inquirer; but it's not an unreasonable demand in itself.

She also informs me that if the Inquirer's lawyers are smart (as they are), they've insisted that, if the case doesn't go to trial, the video tape be destroyed. Given that (from this outside, lay perspective) the case seems to have evaporated, I doubt that the deposition will see the light of day. So unless somebody does something stupid like leak the videotape, there's probably no grounds for the Inquirer to sue.

Is that really the vibe a restaurant wants to have out in the media? If we don't like your review, we'll sue you, and threaten your ability to make a living? Legalities aside, seems like a bad plan for getting any more press,  ever.

That's a really good point. If I were a reviewer for any of the other Philly papers, I'd have crossed Chops off my to-be-reviewed-ever list by now.

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Any of the attorneys on here with expertise in tort law want to opine on whether Laban could have a claim/countersuit against Plotkin?

1L Torts seems like a long, long time ago...

1L was a long time ago for me, too. But the defendants could seek sanctions if they win. Not sure whether they will do so or whether they'd be successful (winning the underlying suit isn't enough), but the Answer/New Matter contains allegations that potentially could be used for that purpose.

And the Inqy likely used the AP piece because they couldn't (or at least shouldn't) report on it themselves; they're a defendant.

-Phila-Foodie

Edited by Phila-Foodie (log)
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1L was a long time ago for me, too.  But the defendants could seek sanctions if they win.  Not sure whether they will do so or whether they'd be successful (winning the underlying suit isn't enough), but the Answer/New Matter contains allegations that potentially could be used for that purpose.

I didn't say it was a long time ago for me. Just seems like a long time ago. :)

"I've been served a parsley mojito. Shit happens." - philadining

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