Jean-Louis Palladin, 55, the former maestro of the Watergate Hotel's Jean-Louis Restaurant whom Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis C. Richman called "perhaps the most famous French chef in America," died of lung cancer Nov. 25 at his home in McLean.

Mr. Palladin, a native of France, arrived in Washington on Aug. 10, 1979, when he opened a small restaurant in the basement of the Watergate Hotel. By the time he closed the doors, on June 15, 1996, his restaurant had become perhaps the most acclaimed establishment of its kind in the city.

While at La Table des Cordeliers, in France, Mr. Palladin became the youngest chef to be awarded two Michelin stars. During his career, he was known not only for his cooking prowess, but also for his leadership in the cooking community. He organized picnics, game hunts, parachute jumps and charity events.

He also played the role of charismatic host to the leading chefs of the Old World by showcasing the finest ingredients of the New World. A measure of his success in this area was that many of the famed chefs who had come to dine ended up apprenticing their children to him.

Daniel Nicolas, then a captain at Mr. Palladin's restaurant, told Richman that in such dealings, "He did something for America. He allowed us to be taken seriously."

Dining at Mr. Palladin's establishment was hardly for those seeking a quick snack, or for those of the faint of heart or wallet. Dinner was usually in the $100 to $200 range -- with at least one group of diners tipping $100 a person.

Mr. Palladin introduced many Washington diners to such items as lamprey eels, monkfish liver, barnacles and periwinkles, as well as a $150 truffle dinner.

Waiters were said to often discourage diners from ordering mixed drinks, maintaining that it would spoil an otherwise impeccable dinner. However, the restaurant boasted a wine cellar that at one time held more than 60,000 bottles.

Mr. Palladin operated his restaurant as something like a madcap ballet, with a legendary intensity and devotion to his craft. One restaurant employee, after learning that the dining emporium was to close, recalled Mr. Palladin for The Post:

"Jean-Louis used to be on hands and knees with his head in the oven to arrange the plates so that they would stay hot," adding, "Where do you go from Jean-Louis?"

Despite winning nearly every restaurant award imaginable and operating to capacity, the restaurant never made a huge profit. Although it charged premium prices, it was saddled with the need to buy expensive raw materials, such as scallops in the shell (wholesale price: $7 apiece). The staff was large and the number of diners small, when compared with many restaurants, and the space in one of the city's leading hotels was valuable.

The restaurant was said to make a profit of no more than $50,000 a year, and the Watergate decided to close Mr. Palladin's restaurant. Since leaving the Watergate, Mr. Palladin had worked in Las Vegas and New York, again winning rave reviews.

He was the author of "Cooking With the Seasons."

His marriage to Regine Palladin ended in divorce.

Survivors include two children, Olivier and Verveine Palladin, both of McLean, and a sister.

Jean-Louis Palladin's restaurant at the Watergate Hotel reaped acclaim but not huge profits.