(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 soupçon 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