Paul Bartolotta is moving down a back-of-house hallway behind his kitchen at the Wynn, leaning over plastic bins of fish and seafood, telling me to smell things, look into their eyes, see the ocean. That’s what his restaurant is all about, bringing a taste of Mediterranean waters to Las Vegas, so fresh sometimes it’s still moving. Bartolotta walks along the day’s deliveries, calling out unfamiliar names—ricciola, sciabola, acquadelle, scorfano—and marveling at the bounty at his back door. They aren’t just delicious imports, they’re part of the chef’s commitment to cooking responsibly, using sustainably caught ingredients that don’t damage the ocean’s already-depleted waters. That means reeling in adult fish in the right season, using smaller boats instead of trawlers and spotlighting so-called “pesce ritrovato,” rediscovered species that pack lots of flavor but aren’t as overfished as their household-name counterparts.
Scorfano alla Palermitana Scorpion fish isn’t popular in the U.S., but it’s a staple in Europe, where it’s often used in stews. “No self-respecting French chef would make a bouillabaisse without this fish,” says Bartolotta, who prepares his scorfano whole with tomatoes, capers, olives, lemon wedges and fresh oregano.
Ricciola di fondale This Sicilian amberjack is found in deeper waters, and Bartolotta says it has a naturally delicious flavor. He serves it classically prepared as an appetizer, grilled over sautéed radicchio with an anchovy sauce on top.
Frittura Dredged in flour, salt and pepper, this fish-fry sampler couldn’t be simpler, but each item packs a distinctive flavor, from the unbelievable sweetness of super-prestigious red shrimp to the tender chew of cuttlefish from the Italian village of Chioggia to the lovely richness of sciabola, silver bladefish rarely seen in U.S. restaurants.
Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare Wynn, 702-770-3298. Daily, 5:30-10 p.m.