If you like chowder, you’ll love the scallops d’Alba at in New London. This appetizer is like chowder on a plate. In fact, I’m wondering if some chef invented it out of necessity one night when the dishwashers fell behind on the bowls.
Fat, milky-white scallops sit atop a pillow of mashed potatoes all mangled up in the center of the plate with translucent slivers of onion, bits of mushroom, and a few shreds of potato skin. An insanely rich white truffle cream sauce smothers the pile and, indeed, the rest of the plate, making a soup of it. Armed only with a fork, I resorted to using the table bread to spoon up the puddle of sauce left behind after we’d made history of the scallops. While I got a kick out of the way it reminded me of New England-style chowder, others might prefer this dish ($10) with half as much truffle sauce and, thus, half the calories.
An appetizer of calamari Capresse ($9) was almost as delicious. Lightly breaded rings of squid — unfortunately, we could find no tentacles — were sautéed with tomatoes, garlic, red onion, herbs, balsamic vinegar, and mascarpone cheese. The balsamic and mascarpone make this appetizer one to remember, imparting a mouth-watering tanginess as they do, and for a long time it was my favorite local calamari. This particular plate, though, was not as amazing as I remember — the squid was not so tender, a touch chewy, and it was light on the balsamic — but my girlfriend disagreed and wholeheartedly endorsed it.
At any rate, we had little trouble stuffing ourselves thoroughly before our entrées arrived, especially since our meals came with salads. I had to take home well more than half of my bowl — a giant bowl — of Tuscan penne ($19). This worked out terrifically because, like many classic Italian dishes, it tasted even better the next day.
The penne scored a hat trick of pleasures. First, came the aroma. Take my advice: When it arrives at your table, breathe deep. Then do it again. Tubes of pinky-sized penne reveled in a steam bath of tomato broth alongside strips of chicken, discs of Italian sausage, and clusters of broccoli rabe. Garlic accented the perfume.
Second, lend me your ears for a moment regarding the broccoli rabe: Italians love their “robbies,” but sometimes they can taste bitter. Not here. Tony D’s gets broccoli rabe right. It was mild and tender and clung seductively to the chunks of stewed tomatoes. Third, the sausage tasted so juicy and sweet, it compelled me to slow down just to savor each bite. Dusting the penne with a little shaved Parmesan from the waiter’s bowl perfected the dish, soaking up and thickening the broth.
The Norwegian Atlantic salmon filet melted in our mouths. Seasoned breadcrumbs contributed a buttery flavor and crystalline crunch to the moist, pink flesh, which flaked apart under the lightest prick from the fork. The salmon ($18) lay across a bed of Tony D’s “signature fried spinach” and beside a pile of roasted potato wedges. As it did with the broccoli rabe, the kitchen proved its masterful touch with the spinach, full of sautéed richness. It’s hard to believe that much flavor can be crammed into a green leafy vegetable.
For dessert, after a brief dispute (I wanted to get the pumpkin gelato), we nibbled on a cannoli ($6) and a slice of one of Tony D’s homemade cheesecakes of the day: Frangelico and almond. We passed on the blood orange and ricotta cheesecake.
In truth, I wouldn’t have guessed there were any Frangelico in our slice if no one had told me, but no matter — it was outstanding. Creamy and sweet, not exactly fluffy but not too dense either, topped with irresistible whipped cream and slivers of almonds, and powdered with sugar, the cheesecake stood upon a graham cracker crust and was almost tall enough to ride a roller coaster. I excavated the slice from all sides before finally pushing it away and letting the bus boy pack the rest for us to take home. We saved half of the cannoli too, which delighted us with its crispy-fresh shell. The sweet, ricotta filling — mascarpone too? — tasted subtly and beautifully of citrus, perhaps from shaved lemon peel, and the decadent tube had been overfilled so that a golf-ball-sized swirl sat atop each end of the shell. Figuring out what to eat for breakfast the next morning was a no-brainer.
Tony D’s Restaurant
92 Huntington Street, New London, CT 06320
Atmosphere & Service: Romantic but casual. Tablecloths, dim lighting, and wall murals. Our waiter had an excellent sense of humor.
Hours: Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Prices: Soups, salads, and appetizers, $5 to $10; grilled pizzas $7 to $8; entrées $12 to $22. Extensive wine list; the menu suggests pairings.
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicap access: Yes