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New Jersey Restaurant Review

The Little Tuna
Restaurant is in a new location since this review was written.
141 Kings Highway East
Haddonfield, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 795-0888

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
8/11/03

As the name The Little Tuna suggests, and even the most cursory glance at the menu confirms, apart from the briefest nods to landlubbers -- filet mignon ($21.00), New York strip steak ($17.00), and a lonely chicken breast ($15.00) -- seafood (including two surf n' turf combos) reigns supreme. And while I am quite fond of this amiable little 38-seat eatery, and of chef/proprietor Marcus Severs' comforting cuisine, choices do require a bit of circumspection.

Before a bright new awning was put in place, the rather nondescript exterior of this Haddon Avenue establishment (Ramona's in its previous incarnation) was easily passed by without notice... as we did on two occasions before finally managing to zero in. Once across the threshold, however, the scene changes considerably. The ambiance is tastefully upscale -- crisp white napery and neutral walls adorned with colorful prints -- but decidedly casual. Given the spatial limitations, tables are in close proximity, but this only adds to the feeling of conviviality... as do the knowledgeable and energetic members of the wait staff.

You begin with an assortment of fresh rolls, courtesy of Le Bus in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Crusty and delicious, they set the proper stage for the seafaring offerings to follow. A house salad is also included with your meal, but this can be variable. On one occasion, the greens had obviously been tossed together just moments before arriving at table; on another, they appeared to have spent considerable time in each other's company languishing in the nether regions of the fridge. Even if the greenery is slightly tired upon occasion, a light and lively lime Caesar dressing possesses marvelous restorative powers.

Topping my list of appetizers are the jumbo shrimp ($8.00) and the scallops ($8.00). The former are marinated in rosemary, ginger, and lime, grilled to crunchy completeness, and then presented on slices of cucumber. The meaty bacon-wrapped bivalves are also set on a seabed of cucumber slices and drizzled with a creamy scallion sauce. These are relatively simple dishes, but they are beautifully executed and utilize ingredients that are at the very peak of good health.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the mussels ($8.00). Plump and pleasant of texture they surely are not; and several taste decidedly "funky" and clearly past their prime. Accompanying broths may often help to ameliorate a less than ideal situation, but those proffered here are clearly of no compensation. The white broth, supposedly "loaded with basil and garlic," is really rather insipid; and the red, while a step in the right direction, is still significantly less than inspiring.

Another starter, the fried calamari ($7.00) -- a mountainous array of over-breaded, inordinately chewy rings -- is strictly standard issue... although the accompanying marinara sauce goes a long way toward redeeming this cephalopod's shortcomings.

There are also a number of selections available from the raw bar, ranging in price from $5.00 for six freshly shucked Virginian topneck clams or Floridian littlenecks to half a dozen Raspberry Point oysters going for $10.00 (all clams and oysters will be steamed upon request). And if you wish to shell out some serious bucks, you might opt for the seafood tier sampling ($25.00 for two; $40.00 for four).

Entrées, like the appetizers, are something of a mixed bag. Choose wisely and you will be rewarded; choose poorly and... Well, you get the picture. Not that you're likely to feel shortchanged or unfairly put upon -- as portions are ample and generally well prepared and presented -- it's just that some dishes work infinitely better than others.

I have always been of the opinion -- and this is a personal prejudice, I freely admit -- that matters piscatorial benefit most from accoutrements that intrude the least. In other words, the less gussied up the better... So I am particularly partial to the baked flounder touched up with a bit of lemon and butter ($15.00) or its sibling, broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat ($18.00). Both are simple, straightforward, and delicious.

Conversely, opah, also known as moonfish ($21.00), usually benefits from a bit of sprucing up. And Mr. Severs crunchy almond crust and lusty seabed of mashed sweet potatoes do precisely that. The red snapper ($17.00), lightly dusted with cornmeal and finished with a heady mushroom stock, is more delicate of disposition but every bit as satisfying.

Only two entrées fail to deliver the goods: the tequila & lime charred shrimp ($17.00) and the salmon filet ($18.00). In the first instance, the shrimp are nicely grilled but the accompanying adobo spice (a combo of crushed chilies and herbs) is infinitely more redolent of salt than of savor and succeeds in delivering a spirited coup de grâce to the defenseless crustaceans. The salmon suffers a similar indignity at the hands of an overly enthusiastic and, in my view, incompatible pistachio and basil-buttered encrustation.

In addition to the aforementioned house salad, your main course is aided and abetted by the sautéed vegetable du jour (nicely done asparagus and broccoli, respectively, on our several visits) and a starch of your choosing. The roasted garlic mashed potatoes are exceptionally good, the rice medley generic, and the baked potato... well, a baked potato.

There are only two desserts on the menu, and both are worth saving room for. The rum raisin apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream ($5.00) is a diet killer worth every last calorie. And a pistachio crust works infinitely better on the luscious chocolate brownie ($6.00) than it does on the salmon. A tangy raspberry sauce provides a nice consummating touch.

Tariffs at The Little Tuna are quite moderate... just be aware that certain items -- notably lobster tail stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat, Alaskan king crab, and a few daily specials -- land squarely on the $30.00 mark. Still, the fact that you may tote along a vintage of your own choosing helps keep the bottom line within reason.

A number of culinary inconsistencies notwithstanding, this delightfully casual and bustling eatery is surely worth a visit.

Cuisine: Seafood
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more only
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes, but quarters are rather cramped.

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