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City of Gold

Step into the world of Los Angeles' most famous food critic.
By Sarah Ward
February 06, 2016
By Sarah Ward
February 06, 2016

If a critic's role is to truly explore their chosen field, not only examining the obvious and popular but also unearthing the new and unknown, then consider Jonathan Gold the king of Los Angeles cuisine. Sure he knows all the regular haunts, but he's more interested in the venues less visited. He sees the city as a hotbed of tastes and textures, with the eclectic eateries off the beaten path more vibrant and varied than their well-known, well-heeled counterparts.

Indeed, Gold's penchant for smaller, harder to find establishments that reflect their respective communities is what has endeared him to LA restaurateurs and readers alike, while also catapulting him to broader fame and recognition. He freely admits that he became a food writer completely by accident, and yet he's been plying his trade for more than two decades. In 2007, he became the first and only food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize.

City of Gold tells his tale, though Laura Gabbert's documentary doesn't just take the standard biographical route. There are no shortage of friends, or thankful chefs and owners, willing to sing his praises — and Gold himself doesn't shy away from sharing his own upbeat anecdotes. But the movie's real focus mirrors its subject's true quest. As his humble beginnings – munching his way along the 15-mile Pico Boulevard from downtown LA to Santa Monica – demonstrate, the Los Angeles Times scribe is more concerned with the experience than the ingredients. Gabbert's skill is in doing the same, honing in on Gold's travels around town in his trusty Dodge truck more than she does the minutiae of the menus he consumes.

Accordingly, City of Gold ambles along with a relaxed air, lurching from one topic to another while its images roam around the city. Thankfully, even when delving into his childhood, background as a music writer and notorious reputation for procrastination, the film doesn't suffer from its sprawling approach and casual attitude. Insights into the history of LA, the art of criticism and the advent of online consumer review sites also earn a mention, but never do they distract from the feature's main thread. Instead, they flesh out the 96-minute look at a guy uncovering the flavours of his hometown with a commitment to authenticity — and not just because it's his job, but because it's his passion.

His enthusiasm, though delivered in his particularly unflashy fashion, proves infectious, with the film sharing that same tone of celebration. That adoration doesn't just extend to its portrayal of Gold, but to the places he champions, with his negative opinions glaringly absent. As Gold reads his own reviews of gastronomic gems, it's easy to believe that his is a life of devouring only the tastiest culinary creations. Basically, if you think being a food critic sounds like the perfect job, this documentary will do very little to change your mind.

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