Where The Fish Are Always Biting

By Dana Bowen

Published on March 13, 2012

There is something jarring and miraculous about eating the best seafood in the world in the middle of the desert. The first time I dined at Bartolotta, which Milwaukee-born chef Paul Bartolotta opened in the Wynn Hotel in 2005, I couldn't believe the fish on offer: sweet blue lobsters from Sicily; Tyrrhenian sea bream; meaty scorpion fish from Puglia. Even in Italy, the inspiration for this seafood-centric restaurant, you'd be hard-pressed to find these regional specialties an hour's drive from where they were brought to shore; these are the gems locals keep for themselves. But Bartolotta has rewritten the rules when it comes to sourcing fish. He's made friends and struck deals with buyers at markets across the Mediterranean, and they overnight him tons—literally, tons—of just-caught seafood four times a week. Nothing is frozen; many crustaceans are kept alive in saltwater tanks until an order comes in. And though the variety and quality are exemplary of Vegas-style lavishness, what really impresses me is the way the chef honors his ingredients. There are no sauce swirls or complicated constructions. The cooking is elemental so as not to obscure the flavor and texture of the fish: a fritto misto encasing juicy specimens in an ethereal, crisp batter; a pasta flavored with not much more than langoustines, tomatoes, and olive oil. "This is how they eat seafood in Italy," the chef says. And in Vegas, it's how they eat it now, too.

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