Fifth Street

December 16, 2021

In this issue: This paella is fire | New Strip bus tour is a joyride for cinephiles | Reality show attorney mocks the system


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.

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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 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.”

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 travelled 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, there was nothing in this version of the restaurant that 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 showcases 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 (above headline). 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 (above), 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 explains. “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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KNOW HOW we’re becoming more like Los Angeles, besides the high car-insurance premiums and syphilitic dating market? We now have a movie tour. No, it’s not like the ones where buses stop in front of Corey Feldman’s house. (Just kidding! He lives in the valley; no bus is taking you there.) And it’s not quite like the Universal Studios backlot tram ride (the only reason you’d even go into the valley).

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Las Vegas Movie Tours is an immersive, 90-minute cruise of the tourist corridor — specifically, the sites and resorts that have hosted more than 200 films, TV shows, music videos, and video game productions. How are you informed of what was shot in which location? That’s the “show” part of this local show-biz diversion, which debuted in early November with a former Wayne Newton tour bus that’s seen more reconstruction and enhancements than the Wayner himself.

There are several elements to Las Vegas Movie Tours that make it different from the usual Hollywood motorcoach tourist trap — most important being Las Vegas itself. “Las Vegas sells something immediate to your sensories, to your eyeballs, to the story,” tour owner and film producer Christopher Ramirez told KNPR’s State of Nevada last month. He added, “You have sci-fi, you have action, you have comedies, you have thrillers … all set in Las Vegas.”

If you don’t buy that Las Vegas movies are their own genre, drop by Zia Records, which features stuffed endcaps dedicated to the category. And since so many productions want to use the city always eager to be used, the Las Vegas Movie Tours script (penned by local journalist Geoff Carter) is stuffed like a Chipotle burrito.

The tour begins in front of Caesars Palace, where up to 25 riders board the shuttle. Once you’re settled in your seat, the ordinary-appearing bus transforms into a mobile AMC, complete with a bag of popcorn and a 55-inch Sony HD 4K television directly in front of you. Above you is more of the same: a panel of TV screens projecting movie ephemera, because this wouldn’t be a Vegas experience without some flash. “We've turned this into more than just a sightseeing tour and wanted it to be not only a movie theater, but … add more elements of what we're all expecting now from immersive experiences,” Ramirez said.

What you’re probably not expecting, though, is a man dressed as a mall cop to join the ride. A costumed busker who strayed too far from Fremont Street? No, it’s local writer/comedian Jason Harris. He’s supposed to be Paul Blart, and you know he’s Paul Blart even if you haven’t seen the Paul Blart movies. But wisely, he does not act like Paul Blart, and you know this even if you haven’t seen the Paul Blart movies. Instead, Jason/Paul is your guide. And after a brief video overview of the Vegas oeuvre, played on the jumbotron up front, he works in concert with movie clips playing on the screen(s) and their corresponding movie locations passing by. And Harris is not alone. There are at least two other participating characters from the Vegas Cinematic Universe — such as misfit players from Dodgeball, gorgeous grapplers from Netflix’s GLOW, and flying Elvises from Honeymoon in Vegas — portrayed by local actors who shout out random commentary and work the room, so to speak.

As you pull onto Las Vegas Boulevard, you realize that otherwise maddening Strip congestion actually serves a purpose for once: It gives the guide time to go through a catalogue of movies set at the location outside the shuttle, share anecdotes about the local shoots for those movies, and make fun of Matt Damon as you pass both Bellagio (Ocean’s 11) and Aria (Jason Bourne).

Down the Strip the tour goes, noting former casinos (Monte Carlo, where an episode of  The X-Files was filmed), casinos that were erased from Strip footage (apparently Resident Evil: Extinction didn’t want Excalibur jeopardizing its arthouse aspirations), and the Strip’s appearance in animated TV shows (The Simpsons). After a U-turn at the Luxor, the route continues north on the Strip — using a brief detour onto Paradise Road to play some trivia and venturing into the Arts District for a quick pit stop at the tour’s gift shop. There’s a quick exploration of Downtown productions and the Rat Pack before a return to the Strip and a grand finale featuring three cultural icons: The Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel, and Viva Las Vegas.

Or at least that’s how my route went. There are variations depending on tour length, traffic conditions, the repertoire of the onboard talent, new production additions, and even the liveliness of the riders. “Not only do we always constantly want to make the show better, but I want to make different versions of it,” Ramirez said. “And I want the guides to have such adaptability when they're touring with people that they can run the show a totally different way than you might have seen it a day before.”

You could look at Las Vegas Movie Tours as a big cinematic joyride, a new bachelor(ette)-party activity, a mobile film school — or a mega-trailer for the Vegas genre. More than once did I write down in my notes the movies I wanted to see for the first time or rewatch. (Mars Attacks! my place, tomorrow night, anyone?) “We think we're promoting these movies that celebrate Las Vegas,” Ramirez said. Given the scholarship, showmanship, and escapism of his movie tour, I’d say he’s celebrating Las Vegas, too.

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ANYONE WHO'S driven around Las Vegas or watched local TV knows all about personal injury lawyers, with their catchy jingles and awkward pitches. The Investigation Discovery reality show Power of Attorney, featuring Las Vegas-based personal injury lawyer Don Worley, offers a different perspective. Worley and his team participate in re-enactments of notable cases, as they prepare the evidence and stage mock trials to gauge their chances of success in the courtroom.

The show’s first season was shot in Worley’s Houston office, but the already-greenlit second season will include episodes shot in Las Vegas. Worley talked to Fifth Street about the process of creating the show and its place in the reality TV world.

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How did the show originate?
I’ve been approached by several individuals in the past, as other lawyers have, because Hollywood has always wanted to do a lawyer reality show. The feedback is always, that’s not going to work, because I don’t want to throw my clients’ personal information during the middle of a case out there to the world. But when (producer) James Gutierrez came to me, I got to be friends with him, and (production company) Critical Content does really good work. So I said, “Here’s how we could do it: We could take real cases that have happened somewhere, either with me or somewhere else in the nation, and just take those as sample cases and then basically just make a show about the process that we as trial lawyers go through to prepare for trial.” Everybody thought it would be interesting for the general public … before they get that jury summons and they go down to the courthouse, for them to know what happened before everyone got there.

Is there any chance of future episodes or seasons being shot in a real courtroom?
It’s going to stick to the mock-trial format, but so far the ratings have shown that people find it very interesting and like the format, to show how it goes to mock trial, which is basically what a real jury is going to say. It’s difficult to do a real trial. There is Court TV that has live trials, but it frankly is very boring to watch eight hours of a courtroom. It’s not all exciting stuff. It’s hearing motions, and the judge making decisions, and then asking a witness where they live and where they're from. It would not make good TV. That’s why people don't watch Court TV, because it’s not interesting.

How did you choose which of your colleagues to feature as your team on the show?
People that can act a little bit. Not everyone’s comfortable in front of a camera. They may be comfortable in a courtroom, but being in front of a camera is a totally different animal. Bill Barfield, or Bulldog Bill, was very comfortable in front of the camera, and he’s comfortable in the courtroom. He does often play the defense lawyer when we go to mock trial, to see what the defense is going to say, because he’s good at coming up with that. So he was naturally in his element. Jay, our investigator, he actually had a TV show before, called Southern Fried Stings, so he’s been on TV before. And then Christina, the paralegal, she was actually a model for Maxim and other magazines. She ended up being very natural in front of the camera.

Do you hope the show counters some negative stereotypes of personal injury lawyers?
Well, yeah, that’s what it shows. A lot of the insurance companies and large corporations want the world to think that these are all frivolous cases, the person wasn’t really hurt, or it wasn’t the fault of the defendant. Anything to keep the insurance company from paying. They’re the ones that want to create that stigma with tort reform and false information. But this shows that your case would never get to the courthouse if it was a frivolous case, because the mock trial would say … you lose. It shows that these are real cases with real injuries, and you’re going in front of a jury to be compensated, because usually insurance companies don’t want to pay a fair and full compensation to the victim. They just want to try to settle for a small amount of money.

Do you have a favorite case from this season?
The most interesting to my other lawyer friends was the one with the exotic dancer with the bad plastic surgery. You can’t win every case, it’s just impossible, and that’s what a mock trial tells you, whether you think you’re going to win or not. So the one where we actually went to mock trial and they told us, you’re going to lose, and we advised the client to settle and not go to trial, but the client wanted to keep going, and we went to trial and we lost — I thought that was an interesting dramatic element to the show, because that’s real life. If a lawyer tells you they’ve never lost a case, then they don’t try cases.

Can you offer any teases for next season’s cases?
Not until (the producers) have decided on them, but they’ll be very similar. They did say they wanted a little more outrageous, unique cases, which is what we try to do. If someone gets hit by a car while crossing the street, it’s a very bad incident for them, and sometimes they’re very seriously hurt, but that may not necessarily be the absolutely best television, because there may not be a lot of the dramatic elements that the producer is looking for. One of our episodes was about a woman being declared dead who wasn’t, and woke up in a body bag. That would make everyone afraid. Those type of outrageous facts that really happen are I guess what makes it TV-worthy.

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Photos and art: Valencian Gold: Christopher Smith; Las Vegas Movie Tours: courtesy; 'Power of Attorney': Investigation Discovery

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