City of Gold is a film about L.A. based (Pulitzer Prize winning) food critic Jonathan Gold. Identifying as a “failed cellist”, Gold was also a proofreader and music reviewer for the L.A. Weekly. Before he became a full-time food critic, Gold ate at every eatery on the 15 mile stretch of Pico Boulevard which runs from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica. He uncovered self contained communities where specialty cuisines from all over the world abounded and he quickly gained a cult following for his boundary pushing exploration of culturally diverse cuisines and delicacies (Google Hagfish at your own risk).
I was previously unaware of Gold’s writing style or his cuisine tastes so I was expecting a hoity-toity character with a love of ostentatious French or perversely expensive food. He is literally a punk rock food critic. Known for his off-the-beaten-track tastes and love of cultural cuisine it’s hard not to see the appeal of the guy. He’s just as at home in a mini-mall food complex as he is in an Italian restaurant. You’ll find him visiting mom and pop restaurants, hot dog stands and Taco trucks – often more than once – and not in disguise. His approach is quite humbling and shows a true love for food where price and pomposity play no part. If Bukowski was a food critic he’d probably be Jonathan Gold.
We probably all consider ourselves “foodies” but compared to the fare on display in this doco I haven’t tried as many cuisines in my lifetime as Gold has in a single day. Although he doesn’t proclaim this himself it is mentioned in the film that he tends to know more about a cuisine than its indigenous people. He’s also compared to Raymond Chandler and that’s a pretty apt comparison as he explores the so-called unglamorous side of Los Angeles, albeit the culinary offerings. Alongside his food journey through LA in his beloved polluting Dodge pickup truck, we are privy to Gold’s upbringing; his punk rock days in a band as the cellist and his hip-hop reviewing days where he was present in the studio as Doggystyle was being recorded. His reviews are also narrated in the film which is great sampler for those who haven’t read his work. Although it paints a picture of fun and excitement and glosses over the bad reviews etc, Gold explains he is often a huge procrastinator and his bosses talk of how hard it is to get him to stick to timelines.
City of Gold is also a film about the sprawling metropolis of L.A. If you’ve enjoyed such films as Los Angeles Plays Itself one could call City of Gold the culinary equivalent of that film . In between trips with Gold to various eateries around L.A. are interviews with family and friends, and shots of mundane goings on and the street art of L.A. I enjoyed the exploration of L.A. and how amorphous its identity is. It was nice to see L.A. through the lens of someone who so clearly loves it and to see a more human and culturally diverse side to the town that seems to be known only for its glitz, glam and depravity.
You’ll come out of the documentary inspired to push yourself to experiment with different styles of food, while I am not yet keen to go and try Hagfish or the spiciest Tom Yum I can find, I am going to go try a taco – yes, I have never had a taco.
City of Gold is currently playing at Rialto theaters.