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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Review: Fat Tuna spotted in Mago Point!

    For many years, Sunset Ribs was a Mago Point destination for folks who wanted to feast on the titular barbecue and/or have some drinks and listen to evening live music. In later years, the raucous, late-night drink-and-party aspect grew more prevalent in the tattered spirit of older singles trying to recall the glory of MTV’s original “Spring Break” specials.

    Shrimp roll at Fat Tuna

    One way or another, Ribs had a successful three-decade run before owner Frank Maratta, exploring other options, sold the spot to Anthony D’Angelo — whose name is familiar as the long-time chef at his father’s Tony D’s in New London.

    Cheese board at Fat Tuna

    D’Angelo had a decidedly different vision for the building, which is now called Fat Tuna and has been popularly open for months as a lovingly transformed, casual/fine-dining seafood restaurant.

    Garden wrap at Fat Tuna

    The building is welcoming with its gleaming, wedding cake-white exterior paint job and two levels of decks/patios for warm months. The restaurant proper is elevated from ground level with an expansive bar with Travel Channel views of Niantic Bay and an open floor dining room with a roomy but convivial feel. A strong aquamarine color accent and framed seascapes and nautically themed paintings enhance the waterfront feel.

    The emphasis at Fat Tuna is indeed on fresh, locally sourced seafood, which is creatively curated through a regular menu, daily specials and Sunday brunch, and includes a raw bar, appetizers, salads, soups, lunch and dinner entrees, happy hour snacks and revolving dessert options.

    A few observations about the dining and drinking options: The cocktail specials are creative and seem to be the work of adventurous mixologists. My wife Eileen opted for an old standby, a Bloody Mary ($12), and enjoyed the heat component and proud tomato vigor so much that she had a second. I let her drive home. Kidding.

    It can also be said that most of the actual fish available at Fat Tuna seems to be on the daily specials sheets. The regular menu offers a lot of composite recipes like, for example, Seafood Newburg ($46), Coquille St. Jacques ($46 two shells, $26 one shell), Bouillabaisse ($54, $28 mini) and a Fisherman’s Platter ($38). There are plenty of scallops, clams, mussels and lobster available — nothing wrong with any of that — but few strictly fish dishes.

    Anyhoo …

    Over two visits, our experiences were very positive. Service was attentive and helpful, our food was delivered in a timely fashion, and Fat Tuna is a pretty place to sit and relax. Here’s what we ate:

    ∎ Clam Chowder ($10) – My impulse was to try the Lobster Bisque, but the descriptives on the creamy recipe for the former included “anisette” AND “fennel,” and I wanted to see how the Double Licorice Effect worked. I really like licorice – but in the sense of a support presence. This chowder was outstanding. The broth is thick, the ratio of potato chunks to nuggets of clams is equal – and they’re plentiful and toothsome. As for the fennel and anisette contributions? Fantastic. One of the finest chowders I have had – in an area where they’re omnipresent.

    ∎ Spicy Crab Salad ($18) – Speaking of pre-entrée fare well worth your investment, I also strongly recommend this dish. The huge mound of fresh-caught crab, mixed with just enough spicy basil jalapeno aioli, was a blast to eat. There were sturdy, baked tortilla chip-style triangles on which to heap the crab, which added to the experience.

    ∎ Shrimp Roll ($19) – The fun spin on this sandwich is that, rather than shrimp salad or fried shrimp, the grinder roll is stuffed with shrimp ceviche. For those unaware, ceviche is a Peruvian appetizer where raw shrimp or fish are marinated in citrus juice — and thus “cured” or cooked — and augmented with diced onions, tomatoes and jalapenos. Usually, it’s served in a glass with a salad fork. But the Tuna People plop a huge, spicy portion with several sizable shrimp onto the fresh roll. Fantastic! It comes with a more-than-fair portion of very tasty, hand-cut fries and a small dish of coleslaw with just a bit of a pleasant bite.

    ∎ Cheeseboard ($18) — or should they call it a cheese SHELL? It was served on a scallop-shaped platter appropriate to the marine theme of the restaurant and festooned with generous slices and cubes of a mango-ginger stilton, a gruyere, a smoked gouda and a black truffle pecorino. Various means of conveyance including water crackers and everything flatbreads; cashews and walnuts; and fresh fruit.

    Frankly, the quality of the cheeses exceeded our “what’s on sale?” grocery store cheddar, so this was a delightful and educational experience and a perfect way to whet the appetite for the entree.

    ∎ Garden Wrap ($16) — This is one of the few vegetarian-friendly menu items, though we’ve been assured the chef will “create something” on demand. Nice to know, but Eileen wanted to try what they’ve concentrated on. The wrap is handsomely constructed with grilled matchstick-cut carrots, zucchini and squash, draped with spinach, and all neatly wrapped up with a luxe basil pesto and tangy goat cheese spread evenly throughout.

    The Fat Tuna Squadron, Eileen reports, are not stingy with the good stuff. She didn’t occasionally stumble across pesto or goat cheese amidst the veggies; they were in every bite. The wrap came with fries and coleslaw, and it made for a filling and satisfying meal.

    ∎ Grilled Tuna Steak ($28) — The concept of this “daily specials” dish had an appealing “autumnal” feel as the fish was ladled in an apple raspberry chutney bordered by mashed sweet potatoes and julienned vegetables. The chutney was luxuriant and redolent of fruit and the mashed potatoes were smoothly textured and richly flavorful.

    I followed our server’s suggestion to order the fish rare; the dish arrived with two handsome slabs of tuna, but one was decidedly rarer than the other. Slightly disconcerting but not a deal breaker, and there was a nice, crusty exterior. However, the fish was bland and, as such, the strong sweetness of the chutney and potatoes came off as strong with no real balance. Overall, it was, to me, anyway, too “autumny.”

    We enjoyed our stops at the Fat Tuna and will look forward to our next visit. It’s good to think of Mago Point as a regular destination again.

    The Fat Tuna

    378 Rope Ferry Road


    (860) 574-9029, fattunact.com

    Cuisine: Upscale fresh and locally sourced seafood

    Atmosphere: Relaxed but lovely; ideal for casual and fine dining occasions

    Service: Attentive, pleasant

    Prices: Pushing toward expensive

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicap access: The dining room is elevated above ground level, but there is a thoughtfully constructed and easily negotiated ramp

    Reservations: Probably best for prime weekend hours

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