Wynn Las Vegas (last visit: May 2009).
"It's an Italian restaurant." "No, it's a seafood restaurant." Bartolotta serves Italian food, but places a heavy emphasis on fresh seafood flown in from the Mediterranean. Most dishes are very simple, with small amounts of light, fresh sauces; Chef Paul Bartolotta lets the food speak for itself. Since opening in April 2005, Bartolotta has quickly garnered national attention, recently being named to one magazine's list of top 100 restaurants in the United States.
I've eaten at Bartolotta four times - twice for lunch (no longer offered) and twice for dinner. Since the lunch menu was identical to the dinner menu, both in content and in price, I don't distinguish between the two in the descriptions that follow.
As already noted, seafood is the star at this restaurant. Your server will bring to the table a platter of whole fresh fish available that day. They're sold by weight; you must purchase the entire fish. Royal langoustines and one or more types of lobster are also available. The fish will be cooked very simply, and is served with one of two simple sauces.
The color scheme is creams, browns and oranges. Six foot tall urns, with large aloes atop, are spread throughout the dining rooms. Tables are spaced far apart, and it is fairly quiet. There's a view of a lake, the mountain, and trees. Each table has a vase with one orchid bloom.
Outside tables are also available. If the weather permits, try to get one. The tables are on the edge of a large pond, filled with koi and dozens of silver hemispheres. The koi obviously expect hand outs. Simply tilt your head in the direction of the pond, and they'll come a running, so to speak. Gazebos and large umbrellas above the tables add to the atmosphere. Surrounding it all are pine trees and other bushes. It's very relaxing.
Service is friendly and relaxed. If you order whole fish, your server will skin and bone the fish at your table. This can sometimes lead to slight delays, since you may end up waiting while this service is performed for another table.
Meal #1: Whole Fresh Fish
As an appetizer, I had mozzarella salad. The mozzarella was light and soft, very different from what passes for mozzarella in grocery stores. I enjoyed it, and it wasn't too filling.
For my main course, I decided to splurge and ordered one of the fish flown in from Italy - red snapper. I had planned to get the simpler of two sauces - salmoriglio (olive oil and lemon with herbs), but the server convinced me to get salsa estiva (tomatoes, arugula, garlic, red onion, olive oil, and red wine vinegar). The whole fish arrived at the table; my server skinned and boned it. The sauce was provided in a bowl, to be spooned over the fish as desired. Accompanying all of this were some finger potatoes, roasted marinated peppers, and sliced zucchini.
The fish was very good - nicely cooked, tender, yet firm, with a mild flavor - and I'm glad I listened to the server about the sauce. The sauce ingredients were uncooked, perhaps marinated for a while. Spooned over the fish, it was a great combination. I sopped up the excess liquid with selections from the bread basket.
Meal #2: Royal Langoustines
I started with Baccalà mantecato - Venetian salt cod mousse. It was smooth, mild flavored and salty, served with greens and a fancy version of garlic toast. It doesn't sound all that wonderful, but it was really good.
Since I had previously tried whole fresh fish, I decided to try royal langoustines. Like the fish, they're flown in fresh from Italy. These shrimp sized crustaceans were split in half, grilled, and served with olive oil and lemon juice. Accompanying them were good finger potatoes and zucchini, and excellent roasted yellow and red peppers. The langoustines were very good, but pricey - $95 for a recommended plate of five. Given the high price, I prefer the whole fresh fish.
Meal #3: More Fish!
I started the meal with a recommendation by the server: Octopus Salad. It consisted of bright red quartered cherry tomatoes, bright green fava beans, and chunks of black and white marinated octopus. The dressing was a small amount of olive oil. Very light, very fresh, very good.
For my main course, I had "Rags of thinly sliced swordfish with Tuscan bread." Two thin slices of grilled swordfish sat atop cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, and Tuscan bread. All had been dressed with olive oil, a little vinegar, and onions. The fish was tender, not at all dry, its flavor not masked by anything. The bread had soaked up some of the dressing and was delicious. Not to sound like a broken record, but it was very light, very fresh, very good.
I'm a chocolate lover, so when my server recommended Budino di cioccolatie banana, gelato allo zuccaro di canne, there was no argument. This was described as warm chocolate banana custard, passion fruit pearls, and natural sugar cane gelato. The custard was so thick it was served free form. It had a very dark chocolate flavor, with banana in the background. All in all, it was more like a flourless chocolate cake than a custard, but slightly softer and smoother. The gelato was wonderfully creamy, with a delicate flavor. Sour passion fruit puree with (tapioca?) pearls provided a good flavor contrast. Excellent.
Meal #4: Slipper Lobster
My waiter recommended cuttlefish as an appetizer. Good suggestion. The dish consisted of thick strips of a good sized specimen, simply grilled, with lemon juice and herb infused olive oil. The flesh was tender and sweet, with a definite charcoal flavor.
I decided to go crazy for the main course, and ordered slipper lobster. Why is it crazy? Because it costs on the order of $100 to $150, for which you get a few ounces of tail meat. It was served oven roasted. The meat is sweet and chewy, with a little more grain than Pacific lobster tail meat. The side dishes, served with all whole fish and shell fish, were as good as ever: good sliced zucchini, very good roasted fingerling potatoes, and superb roasted marinated peppers.
For dessert, my waiter recommended Budino di cioccolatie banana. Having had that previously, I knew he has right, but I wanted to try something different. Torta Caprese might not have been as wonderful, but it was still very good. It consisted of dense chocolate almond cake with raspberries, dark chocolate sauce, heavenly gelato, and a thick curl of dark chocolate.
Bartolotta is among the elite of Las Vegas restaurants, surpassed by just a handful of places. Please order the whole fish if at all possible. It's expensive, but worth it.
Expensive! It's possible to spend under $50 for a three course meal, but with whole fresh fish the cost will be from $75 to $100. Order whole fresh shellfish and the cost will be higher still (meal #4 was $180). To the price, add drinks, tax and tip.
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