Scarpetta combines haute, homey at The Cosmopolitan

The Las Vegas food revolution of the early 2000s meant that, if you were a well-known chef or -- even better -- highly respected for your culinary abilities, a Strip restaurant was a natural extension of your career.

That was the reasoning behind Scott Conant's decision to open Scarpetta at The Cosmopolitan in December.

Established and lauded as one of New York's best Italian chefs and a fixture on the Food Network, Conant says bringing his cuisine here was a "no-brainer." It's his fifth Scarpetta restaurant.

"There's a point in your career where, if you're opening restaurants, Vegas is one of the places you kind of have to be," Conant says. "It just makes sense to open up there. Even with the downturn, there's still a great opportunity in Vegas."

The overall concept of Scarpetta is modern Italian, or alta cucina. But Conant, whose mother is Italian, feels a connection to rustic Italian food. So Scarpetta marries both concepts: haute and homey.

"I never want to sacrifice the rustic soul of the Italian kitchen," Conant says.

It starts with the name. "Scarpetta" means "little shoes," but it's also an Italian word that refers to the act of using a small piece of bread to sop up the sauce on a plate. It's something Conant hopes that diners feel comfortable doing in his restaurants.

And the dining room, which seats 150, is designed to create an ambience that feels like urban Milan meets rustic Tuscany.

"I think of it as approachable fine dining," Conant explains. "There's something about having a room where you feel comfortable grabbing a piece of bread and making a scarpetta. That's the intention of the dining experience."

Scarpetta is open from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 5:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. The bar opens daily at 5 p.m. Reservations are suggested.

Specialties: polenta, $16; spaghetti with tomato and basil, $24; yellowtail with pickled red onions, ginger oil and Hawaiian sea salt, $16

Appetizers: short ribs with risotto, $17; roasted sea scallops, $18; tuna susci with marinated vegetables, $16

Soups and salads: heirloom tomato salad, $14; puree of white asparagus soup, $14

Entrees: black farfalle with lobster, $35; spiced duck breast, $32; black cod, $32

Desserts: zeppole with Nutella, cheesecake, Harry's berries shortcake, each $11

Information: 698-7960