Chalk It Up to an Inspired Owner

By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Word that Pesce (2016 P St. NW; 202-466-3474) had changed chefs this spring sent a merry band of us to the long-lived seafood restaurant in Dupont Circle, where we knocked back some very nice food -- lobster risotto, scallop "bolognese" -- and learned that our beguiling waitress was no less than Verveine Palladin, the 23-year-old offspring of owner Regine Palladin.

Yet another surprise: We were a week or so too early to taste the work of the fresh face in the kitchen. The guy behind our meal, the immediate kitchen replacement for Bernard Marchive, was Pesce's sous-chef, Benjamin Clerici. But Clerici was merely helping out his boss while she found the official new chef, Arnaud Perreau, 29, whose work Palladin had admired when he served as executive chef at Montmartre on the Hill.

Like Marchive, who left in February to take a brief break from cooking, Perreau is a French native. Brittany is where the young chef grew up, and fish was one of his early loves. "My grandfather was a fisherman," Perreau says. "My uncle is an oyster farmer." Palladin's only mandate for her new hire was that he write a menu that was "less creamy, less buttery" than what Pesce had been serving. She also envisions a return to the nearly 15-year-old restaurant's more Mediterranean roots. Thus last week, patrons found on the restaurant's roving chalkboard roasted monkfish rounded out with apples, endive and a lemon vinaigrette, but also sauteed tuna served with a hot salad of snow peas, peanuts and wasabi vinaigrette.

Will Verveine, a 2007 graduate of West Virginia University and a student of French literature, follow in the footsteps of her mother and her father, the late, great chef Jean-Louis Palladin? "She needs something more glamorous," maybe a position in New York or Paris, answers the matter-of-fact Regine Palladin -- who hints that she herself is likely to leave the business in a few years. "I'll be 60 next year. I need to think about my exit." But, she adds, "As long as I'm having fun, I'll stay."

Here's hoping Perreau keeps his boss amused.

Entrees, $22-$26.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company