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10 Highlights From Jonathan Gold's Documentary, 'City of Gold'

The first glimpse of the LA Times critic's Sundance documentary.

Jonathan Gold
Jonathan Gold
City of Gold

"I can't tell you how much I love Los Angeles," is one of the last things Jonathan Gold says in City of Gold, director Laura Gabbert's Sundance Film Festival documentary about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times food critic

An unexpectedly moving and visually striking portrait of both the writer and the city, a celebration of both LA food and LA's global culture, it screened for the media on Monday, and has its official world premiere on Tuesday. Minh Phan of Porridge and Puffs left L.A. at midnight on Sunday to cater a party for the film on Monday afternoon, while Wesley Avila's Guerilla Tacos truck will be parked outside the theater (post-screening) Tuesday.

Below, some highlights from a tiny notepad in the dark:

Some of the restaurants that are featured.

Guerilla Tacos. Antojitos Carmen. Soban. Mariscos Jalisco. Trois Mec. Jitlada. Meals by Genet. Pho Minh. Kogi. Chengdu Taste. Moles La Tia. Earlez Dogs. Guelaguetza.

A few restaurants that the camera pans on for at least a moment.

La Barbacha. Rico Pollo al Hornos. El Salvador Cafe. Tom's No. 5, Bludso's BBQ. Dale's Donuts. Pho Kim (say it out loud).

Gold at Restaurant

A Gold Review is Good for Business (Obviously)

"One day my dad walked in and says, ‘Where did all these white people come from?,'" says Bricia Lopez of  Guelaguetza. And Genet Agonafer of the Ethiopian restaurant Meals by Genet says Gold's review saved her restaurant from a post-9/11 slump that probably had it headed for closure.

The look on Ludo Lefebvre's face

Given there was a documentary crew in tow, it's hard to believe Gold's visit to Petit Trois was a surprise. But the French chef's initial expression, captured by Gabbert in a close-up, is priceless: part dead-eyed nervous stare, part Michael Jordan sticking out his tongue before a game-winner.

"Panic in the kitchen!" Lefebvre half-jokingly exclaims, going on to say that Gold "is a critic who is very open to trying new things," and that Gold's writing taught him things about his own food.

How Roy Choi Tests a Recipe

"When we eat it, can I just throw it down and say FUCK?" Choi explains.

Like Lefebvre, Choi also credits the critic for insight and inspiration, saying that Gold's writing "helped me figure out what we wanted to do."

Gold once saw someone for writer's block, but that person concluded anyone who writes 150,000 words a year doesn't really have it.

Even (Especially) the Great Procrastinate

Gold once saw someone for writer's block, but that person concluded anyone who writes 150,000 words a year doesn't really have it.

"Even before the internet I would always find 12 books and 17 magazines I had to read before I could finish an article," Gold says. He adds that if he starts early on a piece, he'll work on one paragraph for days. "Then somebody calls and starts yelling at me and the rest of the piece will be done in an hour-and-a-half."

Unlike Gold, Robert Sietsema is still (sort of) anonymous.

If you've ever wanted to see the Eater critic's Twitter avatar in three dimensions, here's your chance: Sietsema appears on camera in his devil's horn mask, both for an interview, and while dining with Gold and two other people at a restaurant.

"It's the fat man's version of the Bourne Identity."

Just the One-Liners, Jonathan Gold edition.

"You could take notes when you're having sex too, but you'd sort of be missing out on something." - On not taking notes during his multiple visits to a restaurant.

"I kept feeling like I was getting away with something." - On getting paid to be a critic

"I'm an LA driver. I drive. I am my truck." - On his green Dodge 1500 Ram pick-up.

"In case you think I love everything, the stuff in that restaurant is disgusting." - While driving around Alhambra (as best I could tell, the restaurant is not shown).

"Yeah, I imitated him absolutely blindly when I started." - Gold on Calvin Trillin, with whom he dines at Rafele in New York.

"Your deli is more telling of who you are than the shul you went to." - Gold on being a reform Jew in Los Angeles His family went to Junior's, which meant "you were doing all right."

"It's the fat man's version of the Bourne Identity." - Gold on the burner phones he uses to make restaurant reservations.

"An aria is in some way equal to a well-cooked potato." - Gold on the transition between being a music critic (he's also a classically trained cellist) and a food critic.

"Taco should be a verb."

Just the One-Liners, People Talking About Gold Edition

I don't know any Korean that knows more about Korean food than Jonathan Gold." - Momofuku's David Chang

"No one in the whole wide world knows what I put in my [Thai] coffee, not even my family. But he knows." - Jazz Singsanong of Jitlada, praising Gold's palate.

"He's forming a bond with a reader. ‘You and I are people who eat deer penis.'" - Reuters' Sue Horton on Gold's fondness for the second person as a rhetorical device.

"He is uniquely good at finding horrible things to eat." - Peter Meehan, who assigns a Lucky Peach story on the Korean non-delicacy hagfish on a tip from Gold ("it's like eel, only a lot worse").

"I have to be an environmentalist, because Jonathan's eating everything I'm trying to save." - Gold's brother Mark, formerly of Heal the Bay and now at the UCLA Insitute of Environment and Sustainability. Mark credits his brother's editorial with helping to get California's ban on shark fin passed.

And speaking of the cello.

Late in the film we get a brief glimpse of a tuxedoed, eyepatch-sporting Gold, playing with the post-punk band Overman. During an interview with KCRW that Gabbert filmed, Gold also sings the praises of John Dowland's "Flow My Tears" ("more or less the ‘Stairway To Heaven' of 1620"), "Nuthin' But a ‘G' Thang" and, in what proves to an especially poignant usage tied to Gold's memories of both the 1965 and 1992 riots, Eddie Hazel's guitar solo on Parliament-Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain."

(For once, that's not a food reference.)