City of Gold Documentary In Theaters March 11 + Recap of Lunch at Guelaguetza
City of Gold, the documentary about Los Angeles restaurant critic Jonathan Gold will open in theaters on March 11. It has been making the film festival rounds the last year or so and including Sundance. I got a chance to see it a few weeks ago and came together with the LA Times critic and supporters at a luncheon recently at Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza in Koreatown. Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza is featured in the documentary along quite a few restaurants Gold has reviewed and made famous among the foodies of LA.
I have been reading Gold since I was 7 and never really thought he was anonymous. He makes several mentions of trying to maintain that anonymity which is blown by a woman sitting at the next table tweeting his photo. Let’s be honest, he probably was not anonymous even before the advent of social media. His old paper, LA Weekly, blew his cover and there was always this half winky-half sly comment of “anonymity” even when he was out hosting panels at local food festivals and introducing upcoming restaurant weeks. Only as recently as early January 2015 did Gold finally drop his “anonymous” mask.
The Pulitzer Prize-winner Gold takes us on a journey through Los Angeles, through neighborhoods that we rarely see in glamorous TV shows and movies. Unless of course it’s an “urban” film, then we might see the “rough side.” As we drive along with Gold in his green pick-up truck, you begin see the rhythm and colors of the city. I’ve always thought he was a good writer and he always made we want to explore every neighborhood for culinary gems. The film cements that.
Watching the film, I’m reminded of a LA about 5-6 years ago, perhaps even more. It’s a snapshot of the rise of Kogi truck, the beginnings of our crazed cravings for the spicy food of Jitlada and Chengdu Taste, our newfound love of Ethiopian at Meals by Genet and so many more.
As we ate chapulines (crickets) tacos and picked apart pig trotters, we had the opportunity to ask questions of Gold and director Laura Gabbert. I listened as people asked Gold about his childhood deli (Junior’s on Westwood Boulevard) and learned more from my fellow food writers- ones who had never been to Guelaguetza and another who perhaps hadn’t even realized the importance of Gold’s work in L.A. That made me think of how the film would do outside of LA.
In the last couple of years, there have been more and more articles about what a wonderful city LA was becoming for food. I was at a dinner party in New York a few years ago where these Brooklyn folks oh-so-innocently remarked how LA was becoming more like New York, or even San Francisco. Frankly, I disagree and LA has always been a city where you can get just about anything and it’s the only place I know with so many ethnic enclaves. Sure, I’ve noticed the many Persian spots in West LA though I never thought of it as Tehrangles (as referred to in the movie) but then again, there’s hardly any Filipino restaurants in Historic Filipino Town so perhaps cutesy monikers don’t really matter.
New York chef David Chang asked how did Gold know everything about LA restaurants? That’s actually what I would like to know. How did he find these restaurants? While that’s not really covered in the film, I’ve heard in the early years Gold would look through Chinese phone books for spots in the San Gabriel Valley. And we all know of his famous Pico Boulevard Project (where he ate from one end of Pico to the other) but these days? Does he still use scouts? Is he combing through Instagram, Yelp and Twitter? I suspect so but he probably gets all the press releases. Still, that doesn’t explain all the mysterious Korean restaurants with no English signage or mom and pop shops in far flung neighborhoods. And then I realized the (partial) answer was indeed in the film- Gold drives around neighborhoods and spots them.
The next board of goodies to drop were the patitas de puerco or pig trotters. Since my fear factor days of eating “a lot of weird crap,” I don’t really have a problem with something as innocuous as feet. You’re talking to the tripe and chicken feet lover. Plus, it was covered in avocado slices, let’s go.
I suspect the chicken and cheese chile rellenos that next hit the table were for the people who politely but pointedly didn’t eat the crickets and pig’s feet.
I can’t remember the first time I had mole but Guelaguetza’s has always been my favorite mole in town. We tried four different ones and the black mole is still my #1 with its fine balance of sweet and bitter. It’s always perfectly spiced and now you can even buy jars of the stuff to make at home if you don’t have time to get over to this fine Ktown spot.
Guelaguetza makes this really fun dessert called chocoflan which is half chocolate cake and half flan. I’m coming back for dinner soon because I want to sample all the mezcal at the beautiful bar.
I do recommend seeing City of Gold if you love food, if you love Los Angeles and if you enjoy Jonathan Gold’s prose but also if you don’t love food like us rabid foodies because it’s really a love letter to the city. Besides, it will make you hungry. It’ll make you want to eat at every single restaurant, to learn more about hot dogs in South LA or investigate where the Boyle Heights Breed Street vendors took up shop.
And no, New York and San Francisco, you can’t have our critic.