Paul Bartolotta and the Perils of P.R.

(In 2005, ELV got the dish directly from the chef)

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you know that Eating Las Vegas broke the story of Paul Bartolotta’s leaving the Wynn a little over a week ago. At the time, we were planning on another laudatory article highlighting a recent meal there, which would, once again, cement Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare’s reputation as not only one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas, but also as one of the greatest seafood and Italian restaurants in the country….possibly the greatest.

That posting was put on hold after a courtesy call from the Wynn public relations team, wherein we were told that a press release was forthcoming, announcing that Bartolotta would be leaving the restaurant at the end of the year.

As sad as we were upon hearing the news, it did not come as a surprise. Truth be told, Paul B. had not been a fixture at the restaurant for some time, and we knew he had moved his family back east over a year ago. This past May was also, coincidentally, the ten year anniversary of the restaurant’s opening, and knowing these deals as we do, it was obvious that something would be up with the restaurant’s future.

But as we sat there enjoying course after course of stunningly good pasta and seafood:

…we suspended our disbelief for an evening, and pretended Paul was still in the kitchen, commanding the troops and inspecting every piece of pisces like an Hasidic diamond merchant.

We even got a Skype call from him (from Italy) during the meal:

….where he hinted that changes were afoot, but gave no details.

Even as we suspected he might be parting company with the Wynncore, we held out hope against hope that he might be retained in typical celebrity-chef fashion, keeping his name on the restaurant and showing up a few times a year to check on the menu and whip his soldiers into shape.

But alas, it was not to be.

Two weeks after our spectacular meal, the call came and all fears were confirmed.

As sad as the news was, even sadder was the p.r. spin the Wynn tried to put on it.

“We just want you to know that the restaurant isn’t closing and will be the same even after Paul Bartolotta leaves,” was the way they put it to me on a follow up phone call. Apparently, my tweet of “Bartolotta the chef and the restaurant leaving Wynn next year. Mark LoRusso to head new seafood spot in its place,” had caused a stir among the F & B executives who wanted the world to know that the restaurant would be EXACTLY the same, with the SAME menu and the SAME staff, so it would be the SAME restaurant.

Except it won’t be.

And pretending it will be, just to bamboozle some rubes and/or keep from losing customers because of the switch-over, is a great example of the public relations double-talk that drives ELV crazy. It also explains why we have such a prickly relationship with so many p.r. people in this town. (For the record: We don’t mind the happy talk and constant sell, sell, sell that goes along with public relations; it’s the shoveling of bullshit that gives us pause, especially when it insults our intelligence. For the record #2: We have a pretty decent relationship with the Wynncore p.r. folks, and actually felt sorry for the person who was (no doubt) put up to calling and feeding us the cow pie they wanted us to swallow.)

“It’s sad that that’s the way they want to spin it,” said another p.r. pro, who knows the ropes in these things, “because it discredits both chefs.”

And indeed it does.

Because Bartolotta without Bartolotta (or the name Bartolotta) will not be the same restaurant no matter how many spinmeisters you have shilling for the joint.

The only way they could convince the public (and pernickety critics) otherwise would be to admit that Paul B. hasn’t had any connection with the restaurant for a long time now, thus demonstrating to everyone how excellent it is (and will be) without his presence. Can’t you just imagine THAT press release:

July 22, 2015: Steve Wynn is proud to announce that Mark LoRusso will be succeeding Paul Bartolotta as head chef at the soon-to-be-renamed Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare. Mr. Wynn and everyone at the Wynn/Encore thanks Paul for his years of service to the company and his efforts in bringing one of the great American restaurants to Las Vegas. Wynn was effusive in his praise for Bartolotta and the team that has kept the restaurant at the forefront of American gastronomy: “Paul Bartolotta was essential in putting us on America’s gourmet map, but we’ve been easing him out over the past couple of years (what with that huge salary of his and all), and most of the food the restaurant has been dishing lately is the result of the staff he trained, not anything he’s been doing personally. Once we move LoRusso in, we’ll tell everyone it’s the same place, even after we change the name. Most of my high rollers won’t know the difference anyway.”

They’ll start issuing press releases like that when Satan begins issuing overcoats and ELV starts voting Republican.

Make no mistake: Mark LoRusso is a helluva chef. For seven years he helmed the kitchen at Michael Mina’s “Aqua” (now Michael Mina), when it was one of the best seafood restaurants in the United States. His stint at Botero over the past five or so years has turned it into one of our best steakhouses (in a category full of tough competition).

Putting LoRusso in charge of steaks, though, was like using a Ferrari to deliver the mail. So we’re pleased as punch that a chef with his horsepower will be taking over what still may become another feather in the Wynncore’s cap….and, we hope, one of America’s best seafood restaurants to boot.

But you can’t have it both ways, Steverino. Either Paul Bartolotta — the preeminent Italian chef, seafood maven, restaurateur extraordinaire — has been running things or he has not. We prefer to take you at your word and think that his hand — whether he’s in Italy, New York, Milwaukee or wherever — is still influencing the absolutely, positively, drop-your-fork, slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally delicious cuisine this restaurant turns out.

If he hasn’t been, then the bad’s on you. You can’t spend years (and untold amounts of p.r.) building up and trading upon the prestige of your chefs, and then expect the public (and those finicky critics) to devour your re-branding without a soup├žon of cynicism.

Once Mark LoRusso gets his sea legs back, we have no doubt the place will become equally outstanding.

But don’t tell anyone it will be the same restaurant on January 1, 2016, because it won’t be.

And never will be again.

BARTOLOTTA RISTORANTE DI MARE

In the Wynn Hotel and Casino

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.248.3463

www.wynnlasvegas.com

6 thoughts on “Paul Bartolotta and the Perils of P.R.

  1. What you want to bet that the “New/Old” restaurant will reduce its prices when it is relabeled? Bartolotta’s wasn’t an inexpensive venue. ELV is correct that despite the change in chef leadership it wont be the same.But the rubes and expense account mavens will be fleeced just the same. It is a shame that Wynncore has corporate profits over credible dining options.

  2. Do you think Bartolotta leaving Wynn was, even in his latest consulting capacity, the final nail in the culinary coffin over there. I find it strange that despite my observations that guests still want top notch food at Wynn they seem so unconcerned with keeping top talent. I get chefs moving on but where is the new talent? No disrespect to Mark but shuffling him around isn’t the same as fresh faces and new ideas that made that place 10 years ago.

  3. ELV responds: Bobby J asks a very valid question. It’s true, the salad days of 2005-2010 are gone, and Wynn’s declaration that his (famous, almost famous) chefs would always be in their restaurants is now as stale as Wednesday’s toast.
    I get what Wynn did (even if he/they won’t admit it): the fine dining craze was ebbing, likewise the whole, played-out, celeb chef-thing, so they scotched ALEX, unloaded some big salaries and invested heavily in douchebags and day-clubs. They then promoted from within (Devin Hashimoto, Mark LoRusso, etc.) brought in Enzo Febrarro (Allegro) and have tried to maintain quality while running these places with low-profile talent.
    By and large they’ve succeeded (the food at Wynn is still top notch; Encore less so), but no one talks about the restaurants anymore because the powers that be have decided they’d rather count (and spend) their cash elsewhere….

    From a foodie standpoint, it’s sad because many of us swallowed the company line, hook and sinker from 2005-2010, and to watch them operate these spectacular places as just any old store in a mall, rather than the world-beating restaurants they were designed as, is disappointing, as Bobby J says.

  4. Dude, i had Mark food twice when he was at the bellagio.
    1st time i had a very good 8 course tasting menu, the second time, one year later, i went back, and i had exactly the same tasting menu of the previous year. Done dude…

  5. ELV responds: Paul B. is as gone as our prospects for a 36″ waistline. He really left town almost two years ago and has been making token appearances since then, but the probability of his ever having a restaurant in Las Vegas again are as remote as the Niners’ playoff chances this year.

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