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Whole Lotta Love

Try Paul Bartolotta's twist on whole salt-crusted branzino

"We say that all of our fish speak Italian," says Paul Bartolotta.

Ironic considering that his restaurant, Bartolotta, Ristorante di Mare, is located in the Las Vegas desert.

That hasn't stopped the chef from flying in an impressive array of seafood: Bartolotta sources upward of 40 species daily from the coasts of Venice, Puglia, Liguria and Sicily, thanks to a deep network of Italian fishermen.

"But the restaurant doesn't do coastal food from Liguria or Veneto; it does coastal food from all over Italy," he says. "It's not fancy or fussy food, not cucina creativa, but actually very traditional, textbook food."

Well, not quite. Take his twist on salt-crusted branzino: Before packing the salt around the whole fish, Bartolotta perfumes it with citrus, anise seeds and star anise.

"It just screams of Italy," he says.

The finishing touch is a spoonful of orange and lemon vinaigrette infused with fresh basil and mint (see the recipe).

"It's a super simple dish," he says. "If you cook it slowly, it becomes so moist, and then you put on this light citrus sauce. You can eat it every single day of the year and be happy."

We might take him up on that challenge.

  • At his Las Vegas restaurant, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Paul Bartolotta flies in more than 40 species of fish, fresh from Italy.

  • "This restaurant doesn't do coastal food from Liguria or Veneto, it does coastal food from all over Italy," says Paul Bartolotta, pictured.

  • Whole branzino is slow roasted in a salt-crust, which is seasoned with citrus, fennel and star anise, for a twist on a classic recipe.

  • Once it's plated, Bartolotta tops the fish with a citrus vinaigrette that's been scented with muddled basil and mint.

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