In a shocker of a Strip-dining development, the beloved Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn abruptly served its final meals Sunday night. The restaurant is quickly being flipped into chef Mark LoRusso’s Costa di Mare, which will open with new signage, a new menu and even new staff uniforms tonight.
It had previously been announced that chef Paul Bartolotta, who was helming what was widely considered one of the finest restaurants in Vegas history, was leaving Wynn. But word was he wasn’t departing until early next year. So the decision for LoRusso to take over so soon, a move we’re told the resort made last week without fanfare or even an announcement to the public, was a major surprise.
Costa di Mare, sources say, will retain some elements of Bartolotta, including the famous fish cart, a selection of truly rare seafood (VIPs can always inquire about live langoustines if they don’t see them listed on the menu, we’re told), and pastas like the sheep’s-milk-ricotta ravioli and the spaghetti with rock lobster and spicy tomato sauce. But the majority of the menu will be new.
LoRusso, who’s come over from Botero at Encore, is an accomplished chef who previously cooked at Tableau and worked for Michael Mina (seven years as executive chef of Aqua at Bellagio made it clear that LoRusso knows his way around seafood) and Thomas Keller. But there’s no doubt that Bartolotta will be missed. The restaurant, which opened when Wynn debuted in 2005, was an Italian seafood palace that really felt like it belonged to Vegas. In a city where many of the most baller restaurants are outposts of hot spots from other cities, this was a place that was ours and only ours.
It didn’t hurt that Paul Bartolotta, who loved to insist that this restaurant was all about serving simple food like what you’d find on the coasts of Italy, was driven to find seafood nobody else had. It also didn’t hurt that he was a pasta master, a nationally accomplished star who was a force at New York’s San Domenico and Chicago’s Spiaggia long before he made it to Vegas. He won a James Beard Award in 1994 for Spiaggia, 15 years before he got one for Bartolotta.
Sources close to the legendary chef expect that his departure is just the beginning of his next chapter. But it’s unclear where the notoriously tight-lipped and charmingly humble Bartolotta will end up next, although he’s long had his eye on returning to the New York dining scene. Either way, his influence is felt in some of the most high-profile Italian restaurants in the country: Scott Conant, whose portfolio includes the Cosmopolitan's Scarpetta and D.O.C.G., worked for him in New York. Michael White of New York’s Marea and Bruce Kalman of Los Angeles’ Union worked for him in Chicago.
We ate at Bartolotta both Saturday and Sunday. The sautéed tiny clams, the spaghetti with langoustines and the spaghetti bottarga dazzled as ever. It was clear that most people in the restaurant had no idea that a sea change was happening on Monday, so there was little sadness in the room. Diners in cabanas feasted on whole fish. Tables were, to use the chef’s term, being “blanketed” with desserts including the seemingly endless assortment of gelati, sorbetti and granite. Espresso martinis and champagne were ordered at the bar.
It felt like a normal weekend, which felt so odd. Restaurants like this, ones where European high rollers were known to dine five days in a row and ones swooned over by national and international food writers and TV personalities, don’t just vanish overnight. But we guess sometimes they do.