For years, Pesce has been a Dupont Circle neighborhood gem. More than that, it’s been consistently one of the best seafood restaurants in DC. A great place, with terrific food, good wines and no pretense.
In fact, that was always the downside: a little too little pretense, no reservations. For years, Pesce was first come, first serve. Which meant standing in line in the crowded entryway on P Street for 45 minutes waiting while being tempted by the delicious aroma of grilled fish, seafood stew and whatever other specialties the chef had prepared. If you were lucky, you could wait at one of the few seats at the very crowded bar, smushed against the other patrons. In either case, you were crammed in for the long haul.
More recently, the restaurant changed the policy to allow reservations for 4 or more, which helped. A bit. Except for date night or the random evening out.
A few months ago, Pesce moved down P Street to where Johnny’s Half Shell and then Monsouris used to be (2002 P as opposed to 2016 P). A larger space, or just a better laid out space? In either case, the new Pesce seemed more spacious, more lively, even, but still as intimate.
We took a seat at the bar – we were next in line – and ordered two glasses of Vouvray from the cruvinet, a new addition to the restaurant. There were several French wines written on the chalkboard next to the bar, but it was a nice day (even in mid-November!) and white seemed to be th thing to do. We had barely sipped it when our table was ready, so we moved to our table at the back of the restaurant.
The waiter brought over an empty chair and prompted up a chalkboard covered with the day’s offerings. Another server brought us crusty French bread and water, while we pored over the options. Lobster risotto or sauteed halibut? Maybe blowfish tail (what is that?). Or salmon on rice. Flounder? I love flounder sushi … or monkfish, the poor man’s lobster. Then there were the appetizers … for the non-seafood types, there was an offer of duck magret or NY strip steak at the bottom – but why come to Pesce for land lubber’s fare?
In the end, I went with old favorites, and they didn’t disappoint: rock shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic and parsley which was a wonderful accompaniment to the bread. The salty flavors set off the Alsatian Pinot Blanc (another standby). The grilled whole branzino on a bed of spinach and mushrooms was flaky and light, albeit a bit messy (reminiscent of Venice ….) Note to self: next time, ask the server to filet it, instead of trying to do it myself.
For dessert, pineapple and blood orange sorbet. Old favorites that were as good as ever, maybe even better than I remembered.