The recent Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival at Harrah's and Harveys in Stateline, Nev., at Lake Tahoe was over the top in a good way.
The three-day party featured food-and-wine pairings, multicourse dinners, cooking demonstrations and costumed showgirls moving to a Latin beat.
The eating competition was judged by the Food Network's "Chopped" champion, New Orleans firefighter Michael Gowland.
The two-man eating team from the Tahoe Douglas Fire Department in Nevada beat out the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department team, donating the $500 prize to the 52 Foundation to benefit the families of fallen firefighters.
But what were those Godzilla-size sandwiches the four burly guys on stage were so valiantly trying to finish in the 30-minute time frame?
Turns out to be the Dominator, which can be found on the menu of Harrah's American River Cafe from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
We asked executive chef Brad Budd about its contents.
"All things pork," he said. As in sliced ham, breaded pork cutlet, smoked pork loin, pulled barbecued pork rib meat, regular and country-fried bacon, Asian-style red pork and polish sausage.
It's topped with sweet-hot coleslaw and lime vinaigrette, and served on a house-made onion-sourdough roll. The Dominator weighs 5 1/2 pounds and costs $69. If you eat the whole thing, Harrah's will pick up the tab.
How did the Dominator come about?
"We were doing inventory in the kitchen, and I was looking for something that could become our signature dish," Budd said. "We had a lot of pork items around, and started putting them together. We got a little out of control, but nothing exceeds like excess."
Who orders it?
"We've had a couple of fraternity parties here and a couple of the guys gave it a shot," he said. "Most people cut it up and share it. Everybody gets a big charge out of it."
Has Budd himself knocked back a Dominator? "Oh, no," he said with a laugh. "I'm certain I couldn't eat the whole thing."
The American River Cafe is inside Harrah's hotel- casino at Stateline; (775) 588-6611.
Quick bites in Yountville
We were coming back from visiting Brian Streeter in Napa Valley last week and decided to stop in restaurant-rich Yountville for a bite.
Streeter is the culinary director of Cakebread Cellars, and will present "The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook" for The Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento; (916) 452-5881.
In town, the first bit of luck was something unheard of – an actual brief wait in a short line to get inside the legendary Bouchon Bakery for a bagful of the world's best croissants (6528 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2253, www.bouchonbakery.com).
The second piece of good fortune was the discovery of the charming and relaxed Bistro Jeanty. The chalkboard specials this day included rabbit terrine, fried boneless pig's foot and Mediterranean seabass with ratatouille ($12.50 to $30).
We homed in on a seldom-seen dish that is usually overcooked and fishy when you can find it – smelt. These were shipped in from the Great Lakes and were spectacular. The tender, tasty morsels were fried to a gentle crisp and served with spicy aioli.
Continuing the Great Lakes theme were pike quenelles – luscious, cloudlike fish dumplings in creamy lobster sauce ($14.50, from the standard menu).
Executive chef-owner Philippe Jeanty arrived from Epernay, France, to serve as executive chef at the nearby Domaine Chandon winery for 20 years. He opened his bistro in 1998.
"We had a Michelin star for three years in a row, but haven't had one in a couple of years," chef Jeanty said on the phone Monday. "We're working on getting another one."
When the weather turns cold and wet, we'll revisit the bistro for its straightforward boeuf bourguignon and cassoulet. It's heartening to know that French cuisine lives in a foodie- oriented town where so many California-centric menus have become duplicative and redundant.
Bistro Jeanty, 6510 Washington St., Yountville; (707) 944-0103; www.bistrojeanty.com.
A nice dish at Thai Hut
We dropped by Thai Hut a few nights ago to find a spectacular soup, koi teaw tom yum, on the "specials" whiteboard. It's a sinus- clearing marvel of flavors and textures.
Husband-wife owners Ten and Tuck Siri proudly presented the fragrant dish to our table. The bowl brimmed with a mix of steaming sweet-and-hot broth, thin egg noodles, coarse-ground pork (chicken is an option), green onion, garlic, chile pepper, carrot, celery, fish sauce and lime juice, topped with prawns and ground peanuts ($8.95).
What else is in there? "Love and smiles," replied Tuck Siri, who runs the kitchen.
We ended with chunks of firm, sweet, grade-A mango and sticky rice ($6.95). Mango doesn't get better than this.
Thai Hut, 5800 Madison Ave., Sacramento, (916) 348-1880, www.thaihut.org.
A tasty mountain stop
One of the highlights of the Interstate 80 route to Truckee is at Exit 168, Rainbow Road/Big Bend. Turn right at the stop sign to find the Rainbow Lodge, on the south fork of the Yuba River.
The bed-and-breakfast was built from local granite and huge timbers in the 1920s. It's like coming across a 17th-century pub in the English countryside.
We stopped for lunch, sat on the deck and ate a tasty grilled-cheese sandwich and a thick burger with pretty good french fries.
Weekend brunch is a hit (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), with the likes of omelets and frittatas, french toast and pancakes, burgers and deeply flavored onion soup.
The compelling part is the setting – aspen and fir, rushing water, the mysterious ruins of old stone structures, a hot toddy in front of the oak-burning granite fireplace.
"We will be open through March," said manager Lynn Salmoria. The days and hours for dining and lodging will expand as the ski season comes on, she said. Consult the website for details and updates.
Rainbow Lodge, 50080 Hampshire Rocks Road, Soda Springs; (530) 426-3661, www.therainbowlodge.