Friday night in the thunderstorm we drove out to Tooele. Yes, Tooele. To eat.

Word had reached me of a little restaurant on Main Street called Sostanza that was serving food way beyond its geographical expectations--having recently eaten my way through Utah's small towns and sampled food at more than anyone's share of so-called "homemade" cooking, I was intrigued by the mention of fennel oil and daikon sprouts on the menu.

Some questionable kitchen decisions: the shrimp riding the red gnocchi (above: roasted red pepper pesto, artichoke hearts and spinach leaves mixed with the dumplings) were lightly fried-they should have been grilled, broiled or boiled. But six out of eight appetizers were fried, too, so I suspect that frequent frying is part of the bridge from culinary theory to practice.

Chef Steven Berzansky learned to cook in a Navy-sponsored program run by Johnson & Wales, the esteemed culinary academy in Rhode Island. But he's cooking for small town Utah. The menu is an apparently idiosyncratic list of dishes, some that match the Italianesque name, like lasagne, bruschetta and steak, others only pasta by association, like soba noodles topped with shredded beets, and some straight from the American canon, like pineapple upside-down cake. We tasted bits of all parts with glasses of prosecco and a Pugliese red, served by a friendly and competent but somewhat theatrical server, who referred to the two of us as "we." As in, "Are we ready to order?"

The Diing Companion ordered the soba-beet dish, I ordered the red gnocchi and we split the brined chicken and the upside- down cake.

Okay, Sostanza is not a great restaurant, but it deserves far more praise than the underhanded "best restaurant in Tooele."

It has heart-one of the owners, Spiros Makris, was on hand, greeting guests. And soul-Chef and his staff are enthusiastic, industrious and on the cutting edge of the food revolution in geographic terms, the far edge where most chefs would fear to go. It's the kind of place that makes me cheer.

Saturday was the Fall Festival-Aki Matsuri-celebration in what's left of Salt Lake City's Japantown, at the Church of Christ. I'm not sure how the holiday is celebrated in Japan; in Salt Lake City, it is celebrated with face-painting and a bounce house for kids, a choral singing of Amazing Grace in Japanese, a raffle, a craft fair, an awesome drum concert and some great Japanese food-gyoza cooked to order and premade sushi. Sunday was a day of judgment in Park City; I helped judge the St. Regis Chef's Challenge at the Park Silly Sunday Market.

Michael Le Clerc of 350 Main

was cooking against Seth Adams of Riverhorse on Main,

using a pantry of ingredients pulled by the J&G Grill kitchen at the St.Regis-including tai snapper, filet mignon, tiger shrimp, passion fruit puree, baby fennel, shallots, asparagus, mitake mushrooms, fresh corn, red cipollini onions, carrots, peaches, plums, fingerling potatoes, salad greens, and assorted fresh herbs including basil and chervil.

While the chefs and their audince volunteer sous chefs chopped and sauteed, the audience asked questions and nibbled appetizers-beet and chevre on a kettle chip and white bean mousse tarts.

The challenge: to create 3 plates and 1 drink in 45 minutes. food. Chef Michael presented a Peruvian shrimp ceviche with corn, lime, asparagus and fennel; a Mediterranean-style Tai snapper crusted in herbes de Provence with basil vinaigrette and goat cheese; tournedos of filet with peppercorn glaze, mitake mushrooms and buerre noisette; and a melon smoothie with a splash of white wine, garnished with marinated peaches and vanilla powder.

Chef Seth offered up seared filet with mitake mushrooms, seasoned with horseradish and a chipotle pan sauce accompanied by fresh corn-asparagus succotash and fingerling potatoes; pistachio-crusted Tai snapper topped with caramelized plum and crystallized ginger sauce; and a green salad with shrimp, goat cheese and olives finished with a fresh avocado dressing. His drink creation was a passion fruit and summer melon smoothie made with white wine and yogurt, garnished with fresh peach.

In the end, everyone was a winner, as they say: Le Clerc's drink and beef beat Adams' dishes; Adams' snapper and shrimp got the judges' nod over LeClerc''s vrersions.

As a semi-pro, several things stood out: the effectiveness of a classic buerre noisette to deepen flavor, the use of powdered vanilla to enrich a gentle fruit flavor, the versatility of the ancient dish called succotash, not to mention the coolness of the word, and the apparently bottomless appetite of the American public for cooking as a spectator sport. Good times.