Desert Companion

Flavor on Fire

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Photo by Christopher Smith

Jeffrey Weiss fires up the paella pans — literally — at Valencian Gold.

With a flair for the dramatic, Valencian Gold turns up the heat on traditional paella


Jeffrey Weiss straps a shiny gold flamethrower to his back. “Fuego!” he yells, and his crew joins in a shouted chorus. Then Weiss blasts his targets with fire. It’s quite a spectacle, and the scene looks more suited to an action movie than a restaurant kitchen. But Weiss isn’t lighting up supervillains in a climactic blockbuster scene. His targets: paella pans. He breaks out the flamethrower every time his signature rice dishes need some added heat while they cook on his custom-built, open-rack, rotating oven.

Weiss is like Willy Wonka if he fell in love with Spanish and Valencian cuisine. Visit Valencian Gold, and you’ll see (and taste) how Weiss combines his love of food with a hearty dose of whimsy. This combination of expertise and eccentricity has helped Weiss create the most exciting Spanish restaurant in Las Vegas since EDO Tapas & Wine opened.

Weiss — a former competitive pairs figure skater — took a circuitous route to become a chef and open this restaurant. His first flirtation with Spain came while visiting his sister, who lived there. The food was only part of what drew him in. “I think I fell in love with the culture first,” Weiss says. “As a byproduct, when you’re experiencing the culture, you’re experiencing the food.”

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You can’t get a much better education than Weiss did in the kitchens of Spanish maestros. In America, he worked for José Andrés, often manning the paella station at Jaleo in Washington, D.C. (without a flamethrower). Then it was back to Spain to cook with Adolfo Muñoz at his Toledo restaurant empire. From there, he traveled to the Spanish countryside to work at Carlos Tristancho’s pig farm and learn all things charcuterie. Finally, he landed with three-Michelin-star chef Dani García, and continued to hone his craft. It seemed only natural that Weiss would become a kind of Spanish cuisine kingpin upon his return to the United States.

The first version of Valencian Gold, which opened in July 2019, was a novel concept. Weiss took Spanish food and gave it the bowl treatment. It was like paella had gone Chipotle. And while it was a fun fast-casual idea, nothing in this version of the restaurant showcased who Weiss was as a chef. Diners were pleased if underwhelmed. Weiss recalls, “People would come in at night and ask, ‘Can I get paella in the pan? Can I get cocktails? Can I get sangria?’ They’re asking for this concept to be more.” Weiss was asking himself similar questions. He says, “With my experiences and the people I’ve worked for and with, and the places I’ve been to and have knowledge of, why not put this out there as a more evolved experience of this concept?”

Weiss shuttered the restaurant as the pandemic took hold, but used the time to develop the concept that Valencian Gold is today. His menu is an amalgam of his influences and his quirks, offering both traditional Spanish tapas and main courses, and modern, Americanized riffs on these Spanish plates.

Gill Hayon, a restaurant consultant currently acting as Valencian Gold’s de facto general manager, says, “There is this crazy, weird vibe. We take food that’s maybe a little weird and esoteric to the American palate, traditionally Spanish, in a tapas-style dining environment, mix it all together, and put in some gold glitter, and this is what we got.”

No part of the menu exemplifies that crazy vibe better than the paella. The section is split between “tradicional” and “new school.” The traditional part includes paella Valencia with rabbit and snails. There’s also arròs negre with calamari, prawns, uni, and squid ink, which turns the rice black. Those looking for something new can order items such as the Super Mario, so named because of its focus on mushrooms. And then there’s the “All of the Sins,” which contains baby shrimp, chorizo, corn, and charred corn crema.

“There’s a reason it’s called ‘All of the Sins,’” Weiss says. “I’m pretty much acknowledging that this particular paella does not follow any of the established rules of paella. I put chorizo in that thing. That’s the number-one no-no of making paella. You’re not supposed to put any kind of cured pork product in. I’m using a raw, Mexican chorizo.” By pouring equal passion into the tried-and-true dishes along with the rule-breakers, Weiss has cooked up a concept that’s clearly on fire.

7960 S. Rainbow Blvd., #8000A, 702-776-7707, valenciangold.com

 

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