Scales and Shells

A big emphasis on seafood (surprise!)
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 16, 2008

Scales And Shells | 401.846.3474 | 527 Lower Thames St, Newport | Sun-Thurs, 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 5-10 pm | No credit cards (Checks With IDs) | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
Since the long open kitchen at Scales and Shells is just behind the hostess station, you are pulled into the restaurant by the aroma of wood smoke and garlic as soon as you open the front door. The countertop around the kitchen is low enough to offer a view of cooks scurrying, steam rising, and flames shooting up now and again.

Turning toward the dining area, you take in the airy space with white ceilings and woodwork next to apricot walls. There’s one large seascape, three modest ceramic fish, and a sculpted metal fish on the walls. This stripped-to-basics, ship-shape décor carries over to the oversized blackboard on the back wall.

But here I simply must ask: is chalk cheaper than paper? Or does tradition trump comfort? The blackboard at Scales and Shells, with its multi-colored listings, may be down-home chic, but for anyone over 40 and/or not sitting within a good sight line of this menu, it can mean several trips to stand in front of it and consider your options. Isn’t taking time to peruse the menu in your hands part of the fun of going out to eat?

Okay, okay, what exactly was on that blackboard? As special appetizers, there was spicy tuna with sesame sauce, mussels au gratin, and swordfish fingers. Entrée specials were fish dishes with a bit extra, such as the toro tuna with grilled asparagus and mushrooms. Did I mention that Scales and Shells touts itself as Newport’s only “only seafood” restaurant?

It was therefore gratifying to see that if you came here for a family dinner as a vegetarian, you could, in fact, get linguine aglio and olio, pasta primavera, a veggie kebab, a salad, or grilled asparagus, mushrooms, or eggplant.

Most people seek out the seafood, of course, and judging by the diners on that Sunday evening, many come for the lobster, prepared in several ways, including with a fra diavolo sauce. Other seafood items, whether with scales or with shells, are shopped for daily by the S&S staff. Available from the wood grill that evening were: lobster, shrimp, scallops, salmon, monkfish, tuna, toro tuna, black sea bass, striped bass, and bluefish.

Our waitress reminded us that toro tuna is the fatty underbelly of the fish, and that black sea bass is not related to striped bass (the former is in the grouper family). Shrimp, scallops, and monkfish are offered with piccata or marsala sauces; shrimp, scallops, and calamari with a scampi sauce. Vongole Neapolitan is whole littlenecks with a red sauce over pasta; however, linguine with a red or white sauce can be ordered with shrimp, scallops, or clams, and the latter will be chopped cherrystones.

So, after much discussion back and forth with our waitress (and after an extensive note-taking trip to the blackboard), we settled on the toro tuna special ($27.50) for Bill, and the linguine with white sauce and clams ($21.95) for me. From the list of regular appetizers, we chose the small portion of fried calamari ($10.50), which comes with a side of marinara sauce.

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