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Food and wine were the last things on my mind when I flew out to Tahoe for a few days of snowboarding last weekend. Usually I fly into Reno (spending as little time there as possible), drive straight to Tahoe, snowboard all morning, fuel up with an energy bar, ride all afternoon and collapse from exhaustion at day’s end. But this year was radically different.
I got to Reno late and spent the night at the Eldorado Hotel Casino. I’d always thought of Reno as a trashier, sketchier version of ’80s Vegas, with a food and wine scene composed of all-you-can-eat buffets and smoky bars. But 24 hours in Reno has taught me a few things (unfortunately, not how to improve my poker game). While Reno is a far cry from the culinary mecca that Vegas now is, it does have its hidden surprises. Here are a few great discoveries:
1) Beer snobs can find a serious drink at The Brew Brothers microbrewery, located within the Eldorado. I tried a sampler of all seven microbrews and loved the Bike Dog Ale and the super-smooth Redhead Amber Ale.
2) An eco-friendly casino? I was shocked. The Eldorado is run on used cooking oil from its restaurants. They even go around town collecting cooking oil from other restaurants to help keep the casino aglow.
3) It’s easy to ruin Italian food, so I expected the worst (heaping portions of chicken parm and over-buttered garlic bread) when I sat down to dinner at La Strada. But I was thrilled to find beautifully prepared, appropriately portioned dishes, like a gorgeous duck tortelloni, cooked by a serious chef who even scolded a server for trying to top off my risotto carnaroli with Parmesan (he informed the server that the dish was perfect the way he had prepared it with robiola added). Everything from the pasta to the bread is made in-house, and they even have an on-site butcher shop.