L.A. lost a beloved food critic over the weekend. Jonathan Gold was 57 years old. He died of pancreatic cancer at St. Vincent Medical Center on Saturday evening.
As a native Angeleno, Gold was passionate about interpreting Los Angeles for others. And as a regular voice on KCRW, he was among one of L.A’s greatest storytellers.
DnA’s Frances Anderton toured L.A with Gold in 1998 for a series called “United States of Los Angeles,” hosted by Celeste Wesson. From Langer’s to Nate & Al’s to Brent's Delicatessen, Gold took them on a tour of the best Jewish delis in Los Angeles and discussed the migration of the Jewish population of LA from East to West.
Gold was the only food critic to win a Pulitzer for criticism. And rightly so. Gold thought about all aspects of the dining experience and he wrote and discussed them with passion.
In his long-running “Counter Intelligence” column in LA Weekly, he wrote about hidden away mom and pop eateries, often in anonymous mini-malls.
Anderton recalls that these columns were a revelation on arriving in LA in the 1990s. At the time mini-malls were the scourge of planners and architects who deemed them bad urbanism. For Gold mini-malls were gateways to world food and culture.
In 2008, DnA sat down with Gold to discuss the topic of noise levels in restaurants.
“People talk a lot about the idea of a restaurant as theater and the sound certainly comes into that. The taste of the food comes into that. The smell comes into that. But sometimes I think that if you blindfolded me and you walked me into you know say Campanile or you walked me into Comme Ça or you walked me into Providence or you walked me into Golden Deli that I could probably tell what the restaurants were just by the sound,” Gold said. “It's as much a part of the total ambience as what's on your plate sometimes.”
Gold explained that things have changed a lot since the old days, “when there were two kinds of restaurants. One was very loud and the other was so soft that you could hear a pen drop out of your pocket; that either had harp music or you could hear the cardiac infarctions from the other customers.”
And he said that restaurants seem to be getting louder and louder. “Instead of loud restaurants and less loud restaurants we're dealing with variations of extremely loud,” he joked.
He also thought about moving through space as part of the dining experience. This is how he described Vespertine in Culver City, which he named the top restaurant in Los Angeles in 2017. It’s in a building designed by the architect Eric Owen Moss.
“I think that more than any restaurant I've ever been to, it's almost impossible to isolate the actual things you eat from the actual environment that you're eating it in,” he said.
Jonathan Gold. Photo credit: Duston Todd.