The Unknown Critic

Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan goes to extreme lengths to keep his identity hidden. But his power over local ­restaurants is anything but a secret

The following Saturday, when the Inquirer came out and the review reached its readership of nearly two million people, Sabine fielded calls of congratulation and condolence. That night, several people said they were there specifically because of the review; some said they thought the review wasn’t fair. Three separate groups commented that they thought the restaurant was better than the review indicated.

One of the corollaries of the Two-Bell Problem is that because two bells is by far the largest category of restaurants LaBan has reviewed, a two-bell review doesn’t set a restaurant apart from the mass. “You need to be at peace with the fact that there is no perfect rating system,” LaBan says. “It’s just an additional tool you give to readers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong as a critic with forcing yourself to give a bottom line on things.”

The Bianca review was unlikely to draw fresh crowds of diners eager to check out the new sensation. Nor would it hurt Bianca, except possibly in the eyes of the relatively small group of hyper-food-focused people who had high expectations for the place based on Filoni’s cooking at Savona. Most likely, its impact would be modestly beneficial, simply by making many more people aware that the restaurant exists.

Sabine was viewing it constructively. “He’s a resource for us,” she said. “We can learn from him.” Added Dominique, “He’s doing his job, and he’s doing it very well. Some people like it, and some people don’t.”

“On my side,” Dominique said, “I fired the entire pastry department. Just kidding.”

Dominique planned to call LaBan and thank him, and apologize for staring at him. No, Sabine said, they won’t post the review on the wall. “I’m going to wait until there’s a review I’m really proud of,” she said.