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FAMILY FARE : TUCK’S POINT SEAFOOD : Clamming Up : * The New England-style shellfish is served in a crunchy batter as light as tempura.

If fried clams--whole belly clams piled in a mount of tangled crispy shapes--are one of the great treats of your past . . . and something you thought you left behind in the East, along with snow and rude taxi drivers, think again. There’s an inconspicuous little restaurant in Ventura where Eastern-style fried clams are faithfully served. And people are driving in from points north and south just to get a plateful of them.

The restaurant, Tuck’s Point Seafood, is hidden away in a shopping mall. Its sign blends in with a slew of others that read “Merle Norman,” “Unicuts” and “Post and Parcel.” Only the red neon lobster glowing in the window signals what’s going on at this place. Inside, a few old-fashioned lobster traps hang from the dining room ceiling. With the exception of a steak sandwich and a hamburger for kids, the entire menu consists of seafood.

To start, you get piping hot, sourdough rolls. Then there’s chowder. Tuck’s version reminds me of the oyster stew my family makes at Christmas--comforting stuff.

Fried clams are the next logical step. The batter is light as tempura and crunchy, not greasy at all. And they come with enormous, sweet onion rings dipped in the same batter as the clams.

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There is also lobster. The kind with big, lopsided claws are flown in from the East. Even so, I’d avoid the lobster salad and go for the fresh-cooked lobster, which is wonderful, filled with delicious morsels. The one I had put up a good, stubborn fight, spraying water all over, before yielding an inspiring meal.

Of course there are other non-shellfish paths to follow at Tuck’s. My son, who is remarkably adept at getting his own way, picked a dish to suit his personality: thresher shark. My daughter chose the swordfish, and my husband had red snapper--it was the best red snapper I’ve ever tasted. In fact, all the fish entrees were fresh and perfectly cooked.

Yet I found myself looking at all the plates of pale food (entrees come with french fries or rice) and wishing for a little color, maybe from some vegetables. Then I started imagining the fish with different sauces--a shallot-tarragon-mustard sauce or some lemon butter or even fresh tomato salsa--anything but tartar sauce, which I was finding rather dull. Then I realized: Tuck’s wouldn’t be a New England-style restaurant without its tartar. And that’s what most Tuck’s fans cherish about the place.

* THE DETAILS: Tuck’s Point Seafood, 4020 E. Main St., Ventura. (805) 644-2644. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$50. Open for lunch Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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