City of Gold (2015)

Updates on this blog have been a bit slow lately both due to me being sick and my Internet being down for a few days. I thought I’d get back into the groove with a lighter watch, a documentary about renowned food critic Jonathan Gold and the food scene in Los Angeles.

Much of the film features Gold driving around in his Dodge Challenger as he shows off his prodigious knowledge of the restaurants, food trucks and markets scattered across the many neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Though Gold eats everything, he specializes in smaller, less glamorous venues, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, eateries inside malls and markets, food trucks and all manner of ethnic food so this documentary focuses on them. The film covers so many different places that we don’t really get to know any single one of them very well but as expected, they are all unanimous in their praise for Gold’s appreciation of their cuisine and the impact that his reviews have had on their business. At the same time, it’s also telling a kind of story of the city as influxes of immigrants during different periods give rise to distinctive neighborhoods and hence the introduction of novel cuisines.

Unfortunately while this film is decently produced and has interesting bits, I found it to be too much of a hagiography of Gold to be very engaging. No doubt he has special prominence as the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, but not being much of a foodie myself or someone who knows the LA area, I can’t say that this matters much to me. The film does try to be more ambitious by interviewing experts who try to weave into the narrative an account of how the city developed over time but it’s neither very complete nor very convincing. My favorite bits aren’t about Gold at all but are when they interview restaurateurs who tell their stories of how they arrived in the US and started their businesses. As for Gold himself, I did like the details about how he actually got his start as a music critic rather than a food critic and has some great anecdotes to tell from that period.

Overall this is a rather average documentary, of interest primarily to foodies who regularly read reviews by Gold and other critics. I didn’t even much like the snippets of his reviews quoted here. The article about Los Angeles immediately after the riots of 1992 is great but the ones that are actually about food is full of the kind of flowery sentences that turn me off. Also, though I guess it’s somewhat offensive to say so, I don’t think Gold looks too healthy given that he’s only in his mid-50s and I wonder if part of the responsibility of a popular food critic would be to be more conscious of the health effects of the foods he eats.

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