James Gandolfini was in the market for a mysterious new ink job before his death -- dropping by an L.A. tattoo parlor earlier this month ... and promising to return with a special order.
TMZ has learned Gandolfini visited T-Man Tattoo in Studio City on June 1st -- and the owner (pictured above) tells us, the actor was extremely excited about a new tattoo he was planning.
Gandolfini didn't tell the owner what he wanted to get done -- but said he just moved to the neighborhood, and promised to return later this month for a full tat session.
The owner says Gandolfini was in great spirits during the visit.
As we reported, Gandolfini passed away Wednesday in Italy from an apparent heart attack. He was 51.