Review: City of Gold


City of Gold prompted me to reconsider Los Angeles. Not that I'd given it much thought before. Mostly I'd dismissed the city as an ugly, massive obstacle course that consumes your gas, time, and spirit; a barrage of run-down buildings between the airport and your destination.

Jonathan Gold, the first and only food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, knows better.

Pico Boulevard is 15 and a half miles long, running from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica to Central Avenue in downtown L.A. In the early '80s Gold set out on a mission "to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard and create a map of the senses that would get me from one end to the other." He ate from one strip mall to the next, stopping at every food truck along the way, exploring the tastes of Mexico and Central America while getting to know the people along the way.

Laura Gabbert's documentary is about Gold, which means it's also about immigrants from everywhere starting from scratch in their new American homes and working their way up. Gold writes for the Los Angeles Times and, while he covers all the new upscale dining spots, his heart remains with the families that have moved from a food stand to a storefront. Many of them have no idea what his kind of endorsement can mean, until the review appears and their tables fill with new faces.

Gold is a pleasantly dumpy looking guy with long hair and a big belly. He comes from an arts-centered family, played cello with the UCLA Symphony and performed with a punk band in 1979. His wife, Laurie Ochoa, is the entertainment editor for the Times.

The couple has two kids.

It appears that there is a bit of tension between Gold and some of his birth family. My attention wandered during those parts of the film. Suffice it to say (I hope), he seems pleased at being the square peg near the round hole. He addresses his writer's block – yes, you can crank out an amazing number of words and still have writer's block – and his trouble meeting deadlines.

Only once in the film does Gold make reference to a negative review. I wonder where negativity fits into Gold's booster-ism of differing cultures? He typically visits a place 4 - 5 times before writing a review (oh the luxury!), so I suppose he may mention a few dud dishes in passing while focusing on the good stuff. But I wonder what he does when he's sampled a tiny, struggling restaurant several times and it just isn't very good?

I suspect that my question will be answered later today when I read a few of his columns, but a question like that is basic enough that it should have been addressed in the film.

City of Gold meanders a bit, but Laura Gabbert does a fine job celebrating Gold as Gold celebrates the diversity that he contends makes L.A. unique. If you opt to see the film, and you should, I suggest you grab a bite before, or make plans to grab one right after, because this is certainly going to make you hungry.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.