City of Gold
I wish I had been aware of Jonathan Gold’s restaurant reviews while we were living in Los Angeles. He has written for the alternative newspaper LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, where he currently resides, as well as contributing to such varied venues as Gourmet, Rolling Stone (where he wrote music reviews), and KCRW public radio. He was the first (and as far as I can determine, only) food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize. This is not surprising, as his prose is both informed and incisive, as well as soaring, poetic, and delightfully metaphorical. This nice little documentary is all about him, the people who run the places he reviews and, of course, food.
What I find especially wonderful is that he finds small places, off the beaten track, and doesn’t confine himself to high-end snooty or trendy places. He covers those, too, but I get the impression that his heart is really with the innumerable food trucks and tiny storefronts in remote strip malls, where he finds some outrageously good stuff. How remote, you ask? Hell, he travels out into restaurant no-man’s-land in Alhambra and El Monte. El Monte! I doubt many other food critics had even heard of El Monte before he started reviewing the food to be found out there. He seems to be the first one to notice that really good ethnic food was being prepared in little six-table spots, by people who were using recipes passed down through generations of good cooks. Ditto with food trucks. Everyone now knows that many of these mobile kitchens serve up better food for $5 than you could find for $50 in Beverly Hills. But he was a pioneer in pointing that out.
He seems like a delightful fellow, as well. He loves LA, as we do, and defends it against the sort of people who know all about how horrible the place is, based on a three-day excursion that never took them more than three miles from their swanky hotel, or even some who hate it who haven’t even been there. This being LA, a lot of the movie is spent driving around with him in his big gas-gobbling pickup (which his environmentalist brother just hates!), pointing out where you can get the best phở, the best Korean barbecue (not in Koreatown!), the best hot dogs at a little sidewalk grill in Compton. Again, few restaurant critics are brave enough to even drive through Compton, much less walk the sidewalks and eat suspicious wieners from a portable grill. But Gold is greeted by one and all like a long-lost brother. As well he should be. As with all influential food critics, his reviews can make or break a place. This movie doesn’t cover any of his bad reviews (I assume he has some), but it is clear that when he writes a good one, the lines can stretch around the block the next day. And that is sheer Gold to a restaurant owner.