Calling Jonathan Gold a restaurant critic doesn’t do justice to the man and his importance to Los Angeles and the American culinary scene. He functions as a cultural anthropologist, using food as a lens by which to examine the diverse human tapestry of one of the world’s greatest and most misunderstood cities.
Los Angeles isn’t just Malibu, Beverly Hills and Hollywood. It’s an amalgamation of ethnicities and small neighborhoods, a delicious pastiche of the American Dream writ in sprawl. Gold works as the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, but he could also be considered the city’s travel guide. His reviews don’t just examine restaurants’ style and execution; they reveal the people behind the food and give context for the stories that the food tells.
In her enchanting documentary “City of Gold,” Laura Gabbert follows Gold as he investigates the city in his Dodge pickup, agonizes over sentence structure, breaks deadline and celebrates the complexities and nuances of the city he loves.
Gabbert struggled to convince Gold to consent to the documentary, and the few times the long-haired critic shows reticence about the attention, he reveals himself as a modest, humble man. The film does an excellent job of illustrating Gold’s obsessive curiosity about the food and the cooks who elucidate the soul of a city via fried chicken, steamed buns, tacos and haute cuisine.
The film’s editing whips the movie in dizzying fashion at times, as we dip into a family-owned restaurant for a few minutes and then trail into a humorous aside about the state of food blogging. But the jerky act of discovery creates an organic feel and a casual familiarity that humanizes Gold and his wide-ranging interests and short attention span.
The film doesn’t follow a linear path, which allows for some nice surprises, such as the backstory about Gold’s family life, his passion for art and music and his history as one of the preeminent voices on West Coast hip-hop.
“City of Gold” is a sweet and charming portrait of a talented man with a big appetite — for food, for people, for his city and his family. Gabbert’s film reinforces how lucky the Los Angeles Times is to have on its staff the only Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer and how luckier still the city of Los Angeles is to have someone chronicling and championing its diverse culinary wonders.
‘City of Gold’
Starring: Jonathan Gold, David Chang, Roy Choi, Ludo Lefebvre
Rating: R for some language
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes