Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles Times food critic, is inarguably one of our country’s most prolific writers, let alone restaurant critics. The man has a Pulitzer Prize for his review writing — the first of his profession to win the award — and he’s previously written for LA Weekly, Gourmet and more. Gold is famous for finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants and spotlighting the little-seen cuisines to the masses.
He’s made his way this week to San Francisco to promote "City of Gold," the new documentary in which he stars and found some time to chat with Eater SF. Here’s what he had to say about the dining scene in our city, his peer and our critic-about-town Michael Bauer and more. "City of Gold" is in theaters Friday, March 25 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema, and Gold and director Laura Gabbert will be at the 7:05 p.m. screening on Friday for a Q&A following the film.
On Mission-style burritos:
No [I’m not a fan.] Maybe I’m just an Angeleno, but burritos are one of these classic things that should have a couple spoonfuls of leftover beans and a couple spoonfuls of last night's beef stew, last night's flour tortilla, you crisp it up a little, you wrap it up and put it in your pocket. It’s a working man’s lunch. It’s not this massive thing in some sort of gummy pillowcase. San Francisco people just hate me for that. Or they did for a while.
"Restaurants always know who the critics are. Michael Bauer, you could see him from a freaking helicopter."
On Michael Bauer and the star system:
[Bauer] is the best person in the country at giving stars. His stars are usually right, he has his universe and he has his aesthetic and he has his standards and the stars are great. Pete Wells at The New York Times has no idea what to do with the stars. None. Zero. I love Pete; he’s great. He’s a really good writer, but he doesn't know what to do with stars.
On anonymity as a critic:
The anonymity thing is more for the reader’s sake than it was for the sake of what was going on in the restaurants. Restaurants always know who the critics are. Michael Bauer, you could see him from a freaking helicopter. You could probably spot his blonde buzzcut from space. It was strange when he did his hair to make himself even more recognizable, right? There’s not a restaurant that Michael Bauer can go into in the Bay Area and stay unknown. Everybody knows who Pete [Wells] is, who Sam [Sifton] was. You go in there and pretend you’re not noticing them noticing you pretending not to notice them. It got to be a distraction. [Editor’s note: Gold is not anonymous, "unlike" Bauer.]
On where he stands among other critics:
I’ve been in the world of the restaurant reviews for 30 years. I’ve been doing it as long as MB. I would like to think I’m slightly fresher, but one never knows.
"There are a lot of copycat restaurants in LA, but here [in SF] it’s like … wow. Everything is so stupid expensive here."
On LA versus SF:
I know we like to battle one another. With a lot of Bay Area people I know, it drives me crazy because they think of LA as the place where civilization has crawled to die, and we think of San Francisco as a place to spend a weekend. There’s a lot about LA that has to feel so refreshing. There are a lot of copycat restaurants in LA, but here [in SF] it’s like … wow. Everything is so stupid expensive here. And when you spend a couple million dollars to build out your restaurant, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to your investors. And it doesn't matter if you name’s over the door. They can push you out. SF used to be a place where all the interesting new places were tiny and in weird neighborhoods, and I guess they still probably are, but it seems like it’s harder to innovate. Then again, in LA we don’t have anything remotely like Benu or really like Coi. That would be super good.
On where he likes to eat in SF:
It’s always the Chez Panisse, the Camino. We don't have that sort of stuff. Daimo has the best wontons anywhere in the U.S. It’s in that Chinese mall in the Richmond. It’s pretty good, but [the restaurants in there] switch around a lot. But Daimo is a branch of a Hong Kong place. I don’t have to tell you about Koi Palace, but it's probably still the most ambitious Cantonese place in the U.S.