Image: Stone Bass.
Last Updated: 6/11/2020
Current Status: Pesce is doing a limited, but solid, menu for take-out, open Tuesday to Saturday, 4:30 PM – 9:30 PM.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: June 2019
Imagine a neighborhood restaurant that buzzes as the food is sent from the kitchen, with diners settled into simple tables. Imagine that it has its quirks, like a menu that is a on large blackboard with the choices written in chalk. There may be occasional mark-throughs to replace the accompanying vegetable to the salmon or to note those fresh items that ran out in the course of the night. The blackboards move around the room and are perched on chairs, then moved on to the next table after you have ordered. The food is reliably good, as if the kitchen is trying to live up to the expectations of a culinary legend. It is the kind of place that must develop organically and cannot be pre-fabricated. Pesce is that place.
The focus, as the name gives away, is on fish. There are ten or so appetizers every night, and ten or so main courses. There is a commitment to freshness in ingredients. There is pride in the cooking, accompanied by a welcome lack of pretension. Over the years, the food was a bit heavier than you would expect for a fish-focused place. But recent visits show a lighter touch. There are some dishes that might raise eyebrows among the non-adventurous (whole sardines), but there are many that can please a wide audience.
Pesce was opened in the early 90s by legendary chefs Jean-Louis Palladin (a few years before his acclaimed Watergate restaurant closed) and Roberta Donna. Palladin’s wife assumed control but in 2017 the family sold its interest to the chef Andrew LaPorta. There remain nods to its origins like the Lobster Palladin on the menu. The staff continues to hustle. The wine list is short and slightly more interesting than you might expect. The bar has long been a place where you can get a meal and relax as a solo diner. One of the long-standing, less-than-pleasant quirks is that the bathrooms seem cut off from the A/C, making them sauna-like in summer. But the casualness keeps it under the radar and available to all who seek it out.
The fact a new owner has kept Pesce’s spirit alive is good news for all who value these treasures of DC dining.
Other Guidance: Dress is casual and up fitting the neighborhood vibe. GF can do okay, and better than vegetarians here.
Rating: Worth Taking a Walk
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle
Location: 2002 P St NW, Washington DC
Reservations: Opentable (some nights not required, but they can get busy)
Washington Post: Looks like last reviewed in 2008 (Can’t find link). But made his list of favorite places he’s eating in May 2019, with this high praise: “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no finer fish house in Washington than Pesce.” Emphasis in original.
Zagat: An example of why Zagat can’t be trusted for DC, it still hasn’t noted the change in the ownership in the last two years.