Film Review of CITY OF GOLD

Guest Post By Grazia Caroselli

The ultimate meal that foodies the world over have been waiting years for is finally here! Not to a restaurant near you, but to a neighborhood movie theater near you.

city of gold poster

CITY OF GOLD is a tasty documentary on Jonathon Gold, the first food critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. It satisfies cravings on all five senses. Laura Gabbert’s feature-length film expertly succeeds in sharing Gold’s favorite hard-to-find, tiny mom-and-pop restaurants in L.A.’s deepest ethnic neighborhoods. She mixes cinematic tools like a chef mixes fine ingredients to create a perfect dish. Close-ups of succulent food combinations sizzle and take us into the heat. Sounds of the street pop and mingle under lively sequences of the city in action underscored by a diverse original score by Bobby Johnson. The camera rides right alongside Jonathon in his green pick-up truck as he traverses scrappy roads to get us to his favorite far-flung discoveries. Slo-mo aerials glide over snarled L.A. freeway traffic lanes at twilight, turning rear lights into mesmerizing red rivers below.  We get a peek into the authentic Los Angeles that has taken him years to lovingly, painstakingly uncover with his passionate palate.

Born in South L.A. in the 1950s, Gold grew up in integrated schools before the city shifted to poverty, riots and unrest. This forged his mission to show the rest of the world that even though Los Angeles is, in his own words, “not a melting pot, it is nevertheless a glittering mosaic of wildly diverse neighborhoods”, each brimming with their own original country’s signature dishes. To him, L.A. is a group of Food Nations serving up their cultural best on a plate, from a food stand or a taco truck. As Gold says, “Taco isn’t just a four letter word, it should be a verb.” The miracle of “entry-level capitalism” thrives here.

Telling L.A.’s stories through food with selfless sentimentality is what Gold has insisted on doing as a gastro-voyeur. His obvious delight in describing culinary treasures in his articles makes you immediately want to go to a neighborhood you never knew existed, just to try an Ethiopian special, that best Thai delicacy or the Oaxacan meal hidden in the strip mall next to the dry cleaner.

Gold’s hunger for new food experiences created his career as a food critic.  When he first began writing, Jonathon Gold stood out from other food critics because he reviewed small, out-of-the-way restaurants that only locals were interested in. As a result, he democratized food critiquing that until then had mainly focused on high-end establishments. When he first started getting paid to write food reviews for the L.A. Weekly and then the L.A. Times, Gold said he felt so lucky, like he was “getting away with something.” In 1998 he wrote “The Year I Ate Pico Blvd.”, reviewing the hidden epicurean nuggets along that 15.5 mile stretch from Echo Park, Hollywood and West Hollywood to Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

In the film, Gold reveals that he will go to a restaurant at least five times before he reviews it, and for one restaurant “the record was seventeen times before I wrote about it.” Much like when Oprah makes a book club suggestion, Gold’s positive reviews of a place often changed the lives of immigrant chefs, suddenly discovered by the voracious foodies eager to track down his finds. Interviewed in the film are many of the successful chefs behind Gold’s favorite restaurants, like Roy Choi, David Chang and Ludo Lefebvre and we see the symbiotic relationship between their shared love of food.

Jonathon Gold’s omnivorous insights have mapped out the city with an Eldorado of food finds for us lazier eaters. This has helped Los Angelenos and visitors alike understand the unique culinary richness and history found. For this, Gold has become one of the City of Angels’ angels. Don’t go hungry to this film and plan to drive to your nearest irresistible neighborhood taco truck for dinner afterwards.