LONG CONSIDERED a mere appetizer, charcuterie is having a moment in the spotlight as a culinary centerpiece on its own. Why the renewed popularity, why the status upgrade? It could be because charcuterie’s vibe of communal sharing resonates in an age of social distancing and isolation; it could be because of all that clever marketing that sells charcuterie as “an adult Lunchable.” Either way, lots of local restaurants have turned charcuterie, mix plates, and cheese boards into an edible art form worthy of the main menu. Here are our five favorite charcuterie spots of the moment.
Cured & Whey
Old World specialties from a devoted expert
J Michael Stamm, the owner of this specialty market, might be the foremost expert on charcuterie in town. But don’t take my word for it — ask any of the 150 or so chefs who source product from him. Stamm, a former chef, grew up in a small town in Germany where his family raised cows and pigs to produce their own bierschinken, blutwurst, and bratwurst. Custom boards at Cured & Whey start at $22, and the variety on offer is dizzying. They include meat (starting with different types of salami), cheese, fresh fruit, dry fruit, seasonal jams, nuts, pickled items, and crackers or bread. But check out the specialty boards: one features cheese and meat stuffed in and around an enormous Bavarian pretzel; another showcases Cured & Whey’s savory truffled cheeses. As you eat, you’ll probably spot some of the best chefs in Las Vegas doing the same thing. (Headline picture: Cured and Whey's five-person board.) (6265 S. Valley View Blvd., curedandwhey.com)
EDO Gastro Tapas & Wine
On the menu: a loving tribute to Spain
Raised in Barcelona, Chef Oscar Amador Edo brings his love of Spanish cuisine and jamón Ibérico to this Chinatown hot spot. Equally as important, owner Roberto Liendo has been one of this city’s foremost advocates for Spanish cuisine since his days operating the Boqueria Street food truck. They source their meats from specialty purveyor, Fermin, with all the pigs being 100 percent acorn- and grass-fed. Boards start at $23; paletilla, salchichón, lomo, and chorizo are the featured pork parts (if you don’t know the difference, Liendo will expertly guide you through). It also includes a salchichón tartare cooked with capers, peppers, parsley, shallots, and olive oil. Pickles, olives, and the chef’s choice of two artisan cheeses round out this impressive board. Don’t forget to order pan con tomate to make the most of this trip. (Right, EDO's Ibérico board.) (3400 S. Jones Blvd. #11A, edotapas.com)
A Roman holiday you can eat
The tour of Europe continues as Chef James Trees takes diners to Italy. Trees created his massive charcuterie board based on a visit to Rosciole, the historic Rome eatery that’s been around since 1842. Chef James and his mother spent $25 each there and had a dream meal of assorted meats and cheeses. That’s what Trees aims to bring to his customers with this $29 spread. “The chef’s spread with all the things,” as it’s called on the menu, has proven to be a popular item, as they sell up to 25 boards a day. Items include nduja (a spicy salumi from Calabria) fegatini aka chopped chicken liver, and a foie gras and chicken mousse inspired by the recipe of renowned Chef Marco Pierre White. (These spreadable items are perfect for Esther’s deservedly famous house-made bread.) But there are more things — many more things: Genoa-style salami, spicy capacollo, mortadella with pistachios, and celebrated butcher Cesare Casale’s prosciutto. Add to that Harry’s Berries soaked in balsamic vinegar with rosemary, rotating seasonal pickled veggies, candied green walnuts, and variety of cheeses — which often include a bleu, a truffled, and a sheep’s milk — and it’s clear that Trees has done his trip to Rome justice. (1130 S. Casino Center Blvd. #110, estherslv.com)
Sparrow + Wolf
On this board, French luxury meets Asian flair
Brian Howard has been crafting charcuterie boards since his days at Comme Ça, the long-shuttered French eatery in the Cosmopolitan. At his Chinatown restaurant, Chef Brian continues the tradition, and keeps his focus on French preparations, most of it made in Sparrow + Wolf’s kitchen. On this board, you can expect luxurious items such as chicken liver mousse made with Jidori chickens, cognac, and orange zest. Switching it up, Howard shows his love of Asian cuisine with touches such as studding the pork rilette with togarashi and five spice. Seafood makes a bold appearance, too, in an octopus terrine with Vietnamese jhou sauce. House-made pickles, bread, and novel cheeses (such as Barely Buzzed espresso and lavender cheese from Utah) round out the board. Also: Chef Brian should sell his fig mostarda out of the restaurant’s pantry. Made with house-made cream cheese with honey and pistachio, dijon mustard, and house-made mandarin mustard, it’s bursting with dramatic flavor. (4480 Spring Mountain Road, sparrowandwolflv.com)
Valley Cheese and Wine
Savory simplicity from a certified cheese pro
Bread, board, and a bottle: It’s as simple as this at Henderson’s best cheese shop. Diana Brier offers a superb happy hour deal Tuesday to Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. For $35, you can spend the afternoon sampling fine meats, cheeses, and accoutrements while sipping on a bottle of wine. Few can match Brier’s cheese credentials. Literally. She’s one of 45 people in America to hold a Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator certificate from the American Cheese Society. On her board, you’ll find some of the best cheeses from the U.S. and around the world, including Driftless lavender and honey sheep’s milk cheese from Hidden Spring’s Creamery in Wisconsin, and Naked goat cheese from Spain’s beloved Murciana goats. Honey, fruit, nuts, and toasted bread fill this exceptional board out. (1570 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy., #140, valleycheeseandwine.com)
CAN 9/11 be funny? In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the answer was a firm “no.” But comedy found a way to emerge from (and respond to) 9/11, as explored in the new documentary Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11, co-directed, with Nick Scown, by former Las Vegas Weekly staff writer and Desert Companion contributor Julie Seabaugh. The film features interviews with some of the biggest names in comedy, from Marc Maron and Janeane Garofalo to Las Vegas regulars like Jeff Ross, Gilbert Gottfried, and Doug Stanhope.
Seabaugh, who’s now based in L.A., has spent her journalism career giving serious consideration to comedians and comedy, and Too Soon is the next step in that ongoing effort. Executive produced by Sean Hayes, the documentary airs on Vice TV on September 8 at 9 p.m. and will have a theatrical premiere at L.A.’s Dances With Films festival on September 11. Seabaugh spoke to Fifth Street about the lengthy process of bringing the documentary to the screen.
How did this project come about?
My partner Nick Scown and I actually met at a mutual friend’s wedding. We were sitting next to each other at a table and talking about what we do. A couple months later, he invited me to lunch — this was in the spring of 2016 — and he just kind of pitched me. He was like, “I’ve had this idea for a documentary for a long time, and if you think there’s anything to it, I’d be happy to have you help me with it.” He’s a film guy and a comedy fan, but he’s not in the comedy world per se.
We started filming at July’s Just for Laughs Montreal comedy festival that year, in 2016. I think Todd Barry was our first interviewee. Over the next four years, we kind of cobbled it all together. We used a friend’s borrowed camera, and Nick edited at night. He’s a night-shift editor at FX, and he would use the system there to work on editing. It was only last year, really, when we connected with Pulse Films, who did The History of Comedy and also a ton of music documentaries, and they were looking to get more into comedy stuff. They led us to Hazy Mills Productions, which is Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner, and they hooked us up with about a dozen final big-name interviewees that I couldn’t quite get to myself. It ended up on Vice because everywhere else we tried to approach thought it was too controversial, or they didn’t get it.
What was the process for selecting interview subjects?
We could’ve talked to everybody in comedy, and we would still be making the thing. I wanted to make it either people who specifically had material about 9/11, or people who were personally or professionally affected by it. Everyone has some connection that was a jumping-off point for our interview, because 9/11 was a universal experience, but also very, very personal for people, especially the comics who were in New York at the time.
How do you balance seriousness and humor here as documentary filmmakers?
I wanted to make something that I would be interested in watching, as someone who is one of the biggest comedy fans on the planet. I always love when I learn something about comedians more than just their onstage act. We were adamant about making this something that could speak to younger comedy fans these days about what was happening in the time before social media. There’s not a lot of people who remember that the comedy clubs did close, and the talk shows left the air, and we were all kind of like, “Are we ever going to laugh again? Is irony dead?” It felt permanent for a while. So, we went at it with this attack of, we want it to be a recent American history lesson, and also comedy philosophy, and also social psychology, so it wouldn’t just be basically a clip show of 9/11 jokes — you’d actually come away learning a lot.
What considerations went into how much actual 9/11 footage to show?
There was a lot of discussion of that. We originally had a lot of different comics weaving their narrative together to lay out what the actual day was like for them, which we no longer have. We understood that, especially with this being the 20th anniversary of the attacks, there was going to be a lot in the larger mainstream media about the anniversary of 9/11. We didn’t want to focus on re-triggering those emotions that tend to be brought up. We didn’t want it to be carnage and chaos. We did not want this to be a downer. We wanted to focus on how comedy can help us heal in any sort of tragedy.
Does comedy not get enough credit for its ability to heal and comfort?
Oh, absolutely, especially in modern-day journalism, where comedy coverage is definitely more widespread than it ever has been. But I feel that a lot of it is very superficial, and it’s all about isolating sound bites and having a hot take and making listicles. … To me it’s more about the fact that you can sit in any random comedy room on any random night and the show is going to filled with a diverse array of people from all different backgrounds, and the jokes are going to be told in a different order than they’re ever told before, and yet you can get people all laughing at the same time in that same moment. That always gives me a little boost of optimism for the world at large.
Is comedy in a similar situation now with the ongoing tragedy of the pandemic?
It’s funny, because as we were finishing Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11, we were approached to do Too Soon: The Comedy of COVID. And my perspective was, first of all, Nick’s idea to do this film was very unique and special, and there aren’t a lot of people who could pull that off, whereas everyone watched a lot of comedy during the quarantine. … Another reaction I had to it was, well, I’m really hesitant to start in on something like this because we’re actually in the middle of it still. We don’t know how this ends. So, we can’t say that comedy has helped us overcome it at all.
And then the other idea was that people, especially certain political factions and media outlets, at the time of 9/11, one hundred percent had a “too soon” mentality to certain ideas that were presented in comedy, especially as we get into the Iraq war and all that kind of stuff. But no one has said during COVID that you can’t laugh at COVID jokes. Even when we’ve had far more people die. I feel like it is much more understood that we are allowed to make jokes that help us to feel better and get through things in this time. It’s sort of a proof-of-concept, in a way, of what our 9/11 theory has been.
I AM the person you warned your kid about: a 45-year-old man who still goes to amusement parks. But I’m no threat to your precious offspring. My focus is on the transportive experiences on offer at these glorified county fairs. I love the rollicking physics demonstration that is a roller coaster, I enjoy the (buzzword alert!) immersion of fully enclosed rides, and I revel in the involuntary reactions of people (including myself) in mid-visceral thrill. And, my Twitter doomscrolling while queuing aside, when I’m in a park, I’m a kid again myself.
While Las Vegas doesn’t have a Six Flags-like park, there’s a fat handful of amusements that come close to recreating that destination; they just involve more walking. And money. It used to be that steakhouses were the most expensive a la carte experiences on the Strip — now, it’s ride-hopping. If you wanted to experience, say, the yo-yoing Big Shot atop the Stratosphere, the Superman-approximating zipline that runs the length of the Linq promenade, or the mercifully refurbished Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York, you’d need to cough up $80 a person. Throw in a ride pass at the Adventuredome, and you’re up to $120. That’s more expensive than a weekday ticket at Disneyland — for about 15 non-Disney-caliber rides.
Get ready to add another another $34 to your joyriding tab. FlyOver Las Vegas officially debuted on September 1, and it’s the exception to the thrillseeking binary on the Strip, where rides either threaten to induce a technicolor yawn or scare a deuce out of you. No, this newest local ride is a motion simulator, a contraption that has been frequently installed in several different locales up and down (and adjacent to) the Boulevard. They aren’t designed to make you spew (though, for the record, the ones that once resided at Luxor and The Form Shops at Caesars) very nearly made me do it) or scream. They’re made to transport you from the default world with a moderate degree of tummy tickle. FlyOver is more thrilling than the High Roller Ferris wheel, but less nauseating than anything atop the Stratosphere. So, you can take your kids. And grandma — if she can keep up with the kids.
As it happens, FlyOver’s roots lie in Disney California Adventure, otherwise known as “the other park.” FlyOver’s creative director, Rick Rothschild, was the Imagineer behind DCA’s Soarin’ Over California ride, which whooshed passengers over Golden State hotspots, from Yosemite Falls to Malibu Beach. Rothschild has since left Disney and perfected the experience for the FlyOver chain (there are facsimiles in Vancouver, Minneapolis and Reykjavik). What’s the difference between the Disney prototype and FlyOver? More range of motion, improved 4-D effects, like mist and wind, and more dynamic simulated effects. And yet, despite all those gimmicks, it’s the most elegant theme-park attraction Las Vegas has ever commissioned.
The two-theater complex resides in the old UA Showcase cineplex adjacent to the Hard Rock Cafe. You walk in, choose from one of several ticketing options, and then begin the departure process — with an optional wait enjoying an adult beverage in the bar. Each program — one highlighting iconic scenes in the American West, another giving the same treatment to Iceland — comes with a pre-show short film that tries to put what you’re about to see in context. The four-minute warmup to The Real Wild West ride attempts to capture the spirit of the American West, but it’s awkward, from its arguably tokenistic placement of Native people to its sobering assessment of the region’s future. Peter Pan’s Flight this is not.
But the time-buying preamble soon leads you to the actual ride, which is housed in a 40-seat vertical theater whose seats zoom right up to the 52-foot-wide spherical screen. From there, you find yourself looking down on Mount Washington in Oregon, playing chicken with 65-foot-waves off California’s Lost Coast, and hovering over a Western movie set in Arizona’s Goldfield Ghost Town. The scenes slowly get more epic, building to the film’s climactic sequence of locations, which includes the sole Nevada entry — and one of only two featured urban monuments. All the while, your seats gently move along with the movie’s point-of-view turns and swoops.
That a Vegas attraction would best the Disney attraction it’s fashioned after is a feather in the Strip’s theme-park cap. What might just be a move-in-place travelogue becomes a greatest-hits collection of Western natural wonders you take in from unnatural vantage points. Thirty-four bucks is a lot for a simulator ride — I predict discounts and Groupons, much like those seen following other Strip attraction openings — but this simulation is all grandeur. Those of you cobbling together a marathon of Strip rides — or only budgeting one — should not overlook FlyOver’s exhilarating yet graceful tour of the nation’s most majestic region.
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.