I ate at Park’s BBQ in Koreatown with a group of ten girlfriends recently and as much as I enjoyed it, I sat thinking of Jonathan Gold rather than the mountain of marinated meat in front of me. Not the Jonathan Gold of The City of Gold, but the Jonathan Gold of 2009 who ate at a restaurant repeatedly and anonymously and told us not just about the food and the service but the history of the food and of its ingredients. I miss the Jonathan Gold who reminded us that in fancier restaurants more people have sweated over our dishes.
I miss food critics who know how to hold a chopstick and revere the three-day process of making ramen broth.
I miss the old Jonathan Gold because the 2016 Jonathan Gold suggested we all try The Bellweather. Had Gold showed up rumpled and anonymous he might have experienced the same dreadful service that the rest of us do, including a hostess yelling at me on my 19th anniversary for wanting a table not behind a swinging door or next to a restroom.
“Where DO you want to sit?” She yelled, gesturing at a half-empty restaurant. My husband and I were struck dumb, and in a moment of terrible judgment stayed to dine at The Bellwether.
We need a new Jonathan Gold. We need the existing Jonathan Gold to tell us stories. To tell us how spices have traveled across continents and why. We need Jonathan Gold to explain the ownership of recipes and restaurants, the customs and the superstitions. We need Jonathan Gold to reaffirm our love for Mariscos Jalisco. Because some of Los Angeles’ greatest meals come from roach coaches.
How can we make Jonathan Gold anonymous again? And how was Los Angeles lucky enough to be home to the only Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic to date? Did we appreciate that enough? You bet we did.
Although Los Angeles is a city of immigrants she’s also a city of segregation. Koreatown, Little Saigon, East LA (getting gentrified but still…), Little Armenia, Chinatown, Little Ethiopia, WeHo is Russian, Encino is Israeli, and more. Dining at family-owned restaurants is one of a few means of experiencing another culture without the burden of international travel. If you’re curious about a country’s climate, try one of their salads. You’ll learn what grows there.
I loved having dinner with my girlfriends and Korean BBQ has become a de facto Los Angeles cuisine. And perhaps because Korean BBQ has so permeated the zeitgeist we didn’t explore. We lost our curiosity about the marinades. We forgot to ask why some places cook for you and others have the diner do the cooking. We neglected to ask about the bibimbap, or at least to read about its origins as a ceremonial food.
We are now finding our foodstuff on Instagram. How else would a rainbow bagel make its way in the world? The more pressing question is: Should a rainbow bagel have a place in this world? Is that cultural appropriation? We want our bagels back (I’m looking at you too Sarah Lee)!
The problem with Instagram is that I don’t really care what a 22-year-old with ombre beach wave hair likes to eat unless she’s a culinary student. I certainly am not concerned with the overstuffed sandwiches the bros love. But social media does get it right. Salt and Straw does have ice cream worth waiting in line for. Bay Cities is the only sandwich you should bring out sailing (I say Godmother). And, yes, Bottega Louie’s macaroons are stunningly Instagrammable but their cobb salad or minestrone soup is really why you want to be there.
But there is so much more to food than photos. There are manners and customs. There are spices and combinations of food to be enjoyed together. There is history. There are chopsticks and there are rules about chopsticks. Give me French food in small portions and yell at me when I request a doggy bag. I don’t care, I want the experience.
I miss food writers who buy their own meals and I miss the days of Jonathan Gold being anonymous.