Movie Review: “City of Gold” is a Charming Bio-Doc About One of America’s Last Great Food Critics

 Jonathan Gold is one of the most influential people in creating the concept of how the city of Los Angeles views itself. As a long-time food critic he taught L.A. residents about the value of seeking out authentic ethnic foods and has been an essential component in the survival of many dining establishments. 
Unlike other food writers, Gold doesn’t expect special treatment when he dines out. In fact, he prefers it when restaurants don’t know who he is. He doesn’t call ahead with throw away phones or disguise himself to add mystique to his presence. Unlike many food reviewers who write their review after one dining experience, Gold never posts a review until he has dined at a spot four or five times. 

Gold is a heavy-set, balding man with long mullet hair and a mustache. He has a jovial laugh, a calm demeanor and an intrinsically decent, basic goal of helping hard working chefs find an appreciative audience. He resents that everyone now thinks that they’re experts on food and dining. He has spent a lifetime studying food, cooking techniques, spices and feels that one must have a special temperament to be a food critic. His attempts to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. He seeks out food on all of the borders of the city and everywhere within it. “We have a huge number of cultural fault lines and this is where you find the most beautiful things,” said Jonathan Gold.

Coming into the film having never heard of Gold, and with only a moderate interest in the food critism business, I found the subject intriguing. The film-making style is well balanced and appealing and the overall result is a beautiful biographical documentary about a man who might otherwise be forgotten, or remain unknown in regions other than his own. Directed by Laura Gabbart, her comfort with the subject and her slow unfurling of story is well matched. With a mix of interviews, clips of family interactions and time spent on the road with Gold viewers get a feel for the man from multiple perspectives. 

The main questions of the film are, is food criticism still relevant now that most people refer to phone apps when selecting a restaurant? What is the role of critic? Will the former work of such writers hold any relevance in the future?

Gold believes that we are all strangers of the world together and that we should not only experience each other’s cooking, but also learn and grow from it. City of Gold is a great choice for foodies, Los Angeles lovers or people who appreciate a deep dive into a relatively unknown professional’s world. It is playing now in Houston at the Sundance Theater. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Director: Laura Gabbert
Writer: Laura Gabbert
Runtime: 96 minutes
Release date: March 11, 2016 (nationwide)
MPAA rating: R

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