Blaise Gherardi, 68, who came to this country from France in 1949 and later operated the noted Rive Gauche restaurant here for more than 20 years, died Jan. 24 at Arlington Hospital. He had suffered from arthritis and emphysema.

Mr. Gherardi opened his first restaurant, the Place Vendome, here in 1952. Four years later he moved to the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW, and called his restaurant Rive Gauche-Place Vendome.

He described Rive Gauche as having "the best food in town," and attributed the restaurant's success to this alone. It was also observed that he charged the highest prices in town.

Mr. Gherardi has often been characterized as the founder of the good French restaurant in Washington. Former employes of the Rive Gauche abound in the numerous French restaurants that have opened in this area since 1960.

The Rive Gauche became as famous for its clientele as for its food.

"I don't like to talk about the people who come here." Mr. Gherardi explained in a 1973 interview with a Post reporter. They deserve privacy. Why, when Jackie Kennedy used to come here all the time we never played it up. But other people will talk. Kissinger eats here a lot, too, and we had Sinatra, the astronauts; and Diahann Carroll and David Frost announced their short-lasting engagement here."

Although he was born near Paris, Mr. Gherardi considered himself a Corsican. Before coming to Washington he spent 25 years in the merchant marine and claimed he opened his Washington restaurant "because I don't know anything else."

He was a complex, articulate and feisty man. He demanded perfection from his staff, although he claimed that he had never cooked anything in his life except to "open a can of Campbell's soup on Sundays. I am so sick of this damn French food," he told a Post reporter.

Mr. Gherardi's brother, Marco, explained that his brother's real goal in life was to own and operate a good French restaurant, and he succeeded. "If you wanted a good meal in this city 25 years ago you were really taking a chance. I don't think there were very many good restaurants in Washington until Blaise began his business."

Due to reasons of health, Mr. Gherardi sold the Rive Gauche in 1973, but continued to live in Washington.

In addition to his brother, Marco, of McLean, he is survived by a sister, Estelle Padovani, of France.