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Jonathan Gold...dining out

Jonathan Gold…dining out

“CITY OF GOLD” My rating: B+

96 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every big city needs a Jonathan Gold.

Gold — who looks like a hippie Wilford Brimley (big gut, rusty ‘stache, bald on top with long scraggly hair hanging down) — is the only food/restaurant writer to have won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. As Laura Gabbert’s insightful documentary makes clear, he received that honor not just for what he says about eating in Los Angeles, but for his depiction of the city as a living, breathing,  vibrant entity.

The son of probation officer who raised his children in a high-art environment (“The culture of the nation was flowing through our living room,” Gold recalls), he grew up playing cello, both in a youth orchestra and in a punk rock band.

Gold’s fascination with both the high and low end of the musical spectrum is reflected in his approach to restaurant writing. While he’s done haute cuisine, Gold’s real joy is the hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop restaurant (or food truck) that specializes in ethnic dining, sometimes in just one particular dish.

He has an astoundingly discerning palate. Chefs note Gold’s ability to pick out the various flavor elements and ingredients of even the most complex dishes.

As the doc shows again and again, an endorsement by Gold on the pages of the Los Angeles Times or the L.A. Weekly has the power to change the lives and fortunes of restauranteurs. The chefs he writes about and his fellow journalists all describe him as a hugely empathetic writer.  (One of the film’s main flaws is that it never examines the impact of bad reviews…in fact after watching “City of Gold” one might assume that all of Gold’s reviews are raves.)

Gold’s prose is wonderfully literary without ever dipping into pretentiousness. He writes about food with same marvelous readability that A.J. Libeling brought to the “sweet science” of boxing or Pauline Kael to movies. The film’s soundtrack often features Gold reading from his critiques. You’ve got to love a guy who rhapsodizes about a meal “whose aftertaste can go on for hours” and argues that “taco should be a verb.”

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