Anyone in middle-America suburbia who has ever marveled at the wonder of the Korean taco can thank Jonathan Gold for their culinary discovery.
No, Gold didn’t invent such a cross-cultural concoction but the Los Angeles food writer’s pioneering celebration of street-food variety — he was an early cheerleader of Roy Choi, the chef who made both Korean tacos and food trucks into a millennial phenomenon — helped spark a revolution in much of America’s dining habits.
Gold’s groundbreaking, ’80s-era “Counter Intelligence” column for the LA Weekly and then the Los Angeles Times widened the food-writing spotlight beyond high-end haute cuisine to mini-mall, mom-and-pop eclecticism.
Now, the tables are turned and the man behind the fork — the first food writer ever honored with a Pulitzer Prize — is the subject of an affable and engaging documentary, City of Gold.
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Director Laura Gabbert (No Impact Man) pairs Gold’s rise with that of L.A.’s increasing multi-culturalism in the ’80s and ’90s, the two feeding off each other in delicious symbiosis. Without Little Ethiopia, Thai Town, Koreatown and Tehrangeles, Gold couldn’t have made his name.
And, without his support, many of these eateries — as one Ethiopian restaurateur says in City of Gold — might have gone under.
Gibbert doesn’t dig too deeply into the city’s racial factionalism (Gold did some of his finest writing after the 1992 riots) and no one she interviews has anything but praise for the man. Despite his background as a classically trained musician with a passion for hip-hop, punk, metal and now food (he was a music critic before falling in love with pupuserias and taquerias), he comes across as an average guy.
Along with his wife (writer Laurie Ochoa) and two well-behaved kids, he appears about as unassuming as they come. The low-key, good-natured guy’s biggest fault seems to be his procrastination and inability to make deadlines.
City of Gold then comes off as something of a puff piece. But when snatches of his poetic reviews are read in voiceover — a restaurant’s mole is described as “so dark that it seems to suck the light out of the airspace around it, spicy as a novela and bitter as tears” — it’s clear that at least some of that puffery is well deserved.
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City of Gold
☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Laura Gabbert
Cast: Jonathan Gold, Roy Choi, Ruth Reichl, Calvin Trillin
Rated: R (strong language)
Running time: 96 min.