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Laura Gabbert's sweet, soulful documentary "City of Gold" is simultaneously an endearing portrait of food critic Jonathan Gold and a valentine to his home city, Los Angeles.
"Everybody thinks they know what Los Angeles means," Gold opines while driving his pickup around the city, adding that the locals "are used to having your city explained to you" by out-of-towners.
But Gold knows L.A., with its crazy-quilt mosaic of neighborhoods representing the different immigrant groups that have settled there, better than anybody. He knows these various subcultures through the common way they express themselves: by their food.
Gold is the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, and before that at LA Weekly. He is the only food critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He got that job, and that prize, because he did what other food critics didn't do: He expanded the scope of what a food critic does.
Gold rejected the old-school model of reviewing only the fancy French restaurants where the high-powered and well-heeled dine. He explored the many diverse quarters of L.A. to find the food trucks and mom-and-pop strip-mall locations where truly wonderful food is being served.
He explores the "fault lines where you find the most beautiful things," like the several restaurateurs from Oaxaca, Mexico, who set up in Koreatown because the rents were reasonable. He also finds oddities, like the King Taco restaurant that has its own food truck out front and that the truck tacos are better, for no explainable reason, than the ones inside.
Gabbert follows Gold around doing everyday stuff, but also expands to talk to the food makers Gold has written about from celebrity chefs who praise him for verbalizing what they're trying to accomplish to self-starter cooks who testify how a positive review from him made their business thrive and put their kids through college.
Mostly, "City of Gold" is a portrait of one writer's love affair with a city that, for all its strains and tensions, sometimes can be hard to love. If you've never been to L.A., this movie will make you want to explore its hidden corners, away from Rodeo Drive and Universal Studios and the other tourist traps.
'City of Gold'
A fond portrait of Los Angeles, seen through the eyes of one of its most voracious chroniclers, food critic Jonathan Gold.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, April 1.
Rating • R for some language.
Running time • 92 minutes.