Along with everyone else in L.A., I am mourning Jonathan Gold, and like it seems nearly everyone, I have a Jonathan Gold story. It’s a small one, as stories about Mr. Gold go, but it is true to character.
But first some necessary back story. Some years ago a cousin of mine went to China to teach English. He met a woman there, from the city of Liuzhou, in Guangxi province in the far south of China. They fell in love, and married. After a few years in China, my cousin returned to the States with his bride. They settled in the Bay Area, but they have visited us here in Santa Monica a couple of times.
Southern California is, of course, the home of many immigrants from all regions of China, who have, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley, opened many, many restaurants that feature seemingly infinite varieties of Chinese food, varieties based on specific regions, ingredients, cooking techniques, etc. Jonathan Gold famously wrote about those restaurants and the restaurants of many other diasporas that have reached our shores (and valleys).
Knowing this, prior to visiting us, and because he wanted to be a good husband to his somewhat homesick wife, my cousin would research the Web to find restaurants here that served food from Guangzi. In particular he was looking for the specialty of his wife’s hometown, Liuzhou, a noodle stew called luosifen that is based on a snail and pork bone stock. The first time they visited my cousin found a restaurant, not surprisingly, in the San Gabriel Valley. For the second visit, however, a few years ago, he shocked me by finding a little restaurant in a strip mall on Westwood Boulevard that served luosifen. It’s called Qin West, and it is as tiny (so tiny that it doesn’t have its own restrooms) as it is authentic. Needless to say I’d never heard of it.
Flash forward a few years, to last year, when City of Gold, the documentary about Jonathan Gold, was playing at the Laemmle theaters on Second Street in Santa Monica. My wife and I went to a screening that featured a Q&A afterwards with Mr. Gold and the director of the film. My wife and I loved the movie and very much enjoyed the discussion afterwards.
When we walked out of the theater onto Second Street, Mr. Gold and the director and friends of theirs were standing around on the sidewalk, talking. I screwed up my courage to ask Mr. Gold a question that had been on my mind for years, namely, why are there no truly good and authentic Chinese restaurants on the Westside?
Now, before you say that the answer is obvious—because there are few Chinese, let alone immigrant Chinese, living on the Westside—let me point out that there are good restaurants representing other immigrant communities here. We have good Thai restaurants, good Japanese restaurants, good Mexican (including Oaxacan) restaurants, good Korean barbecue, etc. Restaurants run by immigrant families cooking what they know.
So I asked Mr. Gold my question. He looked at me kindly, but without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “You mean, other than Qin West?”
Thanks for reading.