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Gold Standard

By Lara Rabinovitch

Published Sep 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic and food writer Jonathan Gold ’82 died on July 21, 2018.


Gold gave the commencement address at his alma mater, the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, in 2013. Photo by Anne Marie Burke.

I first met Jonathan Gold in early 2011. We shared a flight to Los Angeles after we had attended a writing workshop in Key West, Florida. (He was, of course, one of the headlining speakers.) I had admired Jonathan from afar for years, and I was floored when he and his wife Laurie Ochoa (Los Angeles Times Arts and Entertainment editor) asked me to join them for dinner after we landed. (My husband, Josh, joined us, too.) As it turned out, Jonathan was reviewing Roy Choi’s then-new restaurant A-Frame. We ate Roy’s revelatory food — furikake corn, peel-and-eat shrimp, some kind of beer-can Hawaiian chicken. Yet what I remember most is how long Jonathan and Josh talked about the Lakers and the Rams (years before the team’s comeback to L.A.) after our meal, while standing in the restaurant’s parking lot in near pitch-dark midnight. There was almost nothing Jonathan couldn’t talk about intelligently and passionately.

“He was the soul of the city,” film director Laura Gabbert M.F.A. ’04 muses; she directed the documentary feature City of Gold (2015) about Jonathan. (I was a producer on the film.) “Jonathan really blurred the boundaries between communities and cultures. He made people less afraid of their neighbors.”

Jonathan loved all kinds of restaurants: tiny, strip-mall immigrant storefronts or exalted temples of fine dining. Chef Michael Cimarusti, of Providence — which consistently garnered the top spot on Jonathan’s “best of” lists — believes Jonathan’s writing put this city on the culinary map globally: “We lost one of our greatest champions,” he says.

One of my best memories of Jonathan is from a couple of years ago, when I took a drive with him down Pico Boulevard. We were taping a podcast interview timed with the online release of City of Gold. By then, I had devoted countless hours to thinking about Jonathan’s enigmatic personality and gargantuan professional arc, his indelible mark on the city and his pitch-perfect insights into its overwhelming inner workings. That day, we met at the southwest corner of Shenandoah Street, where Jonathan had lived some 30 years earlier, after graduating from UCLA (where he studied the cello). Back then, working as a 21-year-old legal proofreader, he used his bus route from downtown to eat at nearly every restaurant on Pico. Jonathan referred to this period as his “alternative to graduate school.” As we drove in his dinosaur of a truck that day, he shared his memories of places like La Cevicheria or Mr. Coleslaw Burger and explained that, to him, Pico was the best example of the “glittering mosaic” that is Los Angeles.

“He was so proud to be an Angeleno,” says restaurateur Evan Kleiman ’76, M.B.A. ’80, also host of KCRW’s show and podcast “Good Food,” where Jonathan appeared weekly with restaurant recommendations. “It was his core identity, and woven into that was being a Bruin.”

One of Jonathan’s favorite L.A. institutions was Langer’s Deli (in a classic display of his ironic sense of humor, Jonathan was known to walk around lower Manhattan — illustrious deli territory — wearing one of the West Coast restaurant’s trademark hats). In a story that he wrote for the LA Weekly almost 10 years ago, imagining his death, he told readers he would like his funeral to be catered with “heroic amounts of deli” from the MacArthur Park mainstay. I like to think Jonathan is now slowly savoring a hot pastrami sandwich and smiling down on all of us.