Review: CITY OF GOLD, Discovering Los Angeles By Eating

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Review: CITY OF GOLD, Discovering Los Angeles By Eating

Do you still live in the city where you grew up? I was born and raised in Los Angeles, spending most of my time in the suburban communities of the San Fernando Valley before moving away in 1984.

When I returned in 2002, I was afloat. The city and the culture had changed dramatically. Increasingly, I turned to the pages of Los Angeles Weekly as a road map and fell in love with certain writers, including Jonathan Gold. My circumstances didn't allow me to travel widely throughout the metropolitan area to eat at the restaurants he recommended, but his insights into the cultural and culinary worlds were always fascinating to read.

A fair degree of that fascination is captured in Laura Gabbert's City of Gold, a documentary that explores Los Angeles as seen, experienced, and eaten by Jonathan Gold. As he acknowledges early on, the idea of searching for and writing about restaurants 'on someone else's dime' seemed like a fantasy and, indeed, that's the key phrase. Properly paid food critics have the freedom (and obligation) to write about their passions without worrying about whether it's worth the expense to drive 50 miles to try out a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that may or may serve satisfying, or even edible, food.

What helps Gold to stand out among food critics is his willingness to go far beyond listing menu items and a rundown of ingredients; instead, he places varying cuisines into an understandable context. After all, merely describing a restaurant as serving "Mexican" food isn't very helpful at all, unless one can identify the particular region of origin and also point out other influences that influence what's being served. Gold's knowledge about food from around the world informs his reviews, yet it's provided in a friendly, engaging manner in his reviews and features.

Gabbert's documentary follows Gold on his endless road trips throughout Los Angeles and surrounding communities; as he points out and briefly comments on restaurant after restaurant, it becomes evident that he takes his job very seriously. That's interspersed with interviews with grateful restaurateurs who benefited from positive Gold reviews, as well as experts who provide a bit of historical and critical context.

Highlights from Gold's past form a biographical portrait that sheds light on his approach to criticism. Footage of him with his wife and two children supplies a personal touch, as does his tendency toward professional procrastination in his writing.

The approach taken by Gabbert initially feels somewhat messy and indulgent, rambling along with Gold as he visits favorite restaurants and food trucks, and is fawned over by the owners. Yet Gold's love for food and for the rich variety of cuisines available in Los Angeles appears 100% genuine and authentic.

What emerges is a picture of Los Angeles as an extremely diversified and richly rewarding place to live and eat. City of Gold enshrines the food critic as a beneficent emperor whose primary interest is finding something good to eat and then telling other people about it. The film made me (briefly) want to move back to Los Angeles and eat my way through the city.

For educational and cultural purposes, of course.

The film is now playing theatrically in New York and Los Angeles. It will expand to select theaters across the U.S. on Friday, March 25. Visit the official site for locations and more information.

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documentaryfood docJonathan GoldLaura GabbertLos Angeles

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