Longtime Dupont Circle seafood restaurant Pesce is popping up inside the Eastern Market location of Bullfrog Bagels for the next three months. “One of our taglines is, ‘You can’t get people who live on the Hill off the Hill,’ so we might as well bring Pesce to them,” says Chef Andrew LaPorta.
Jean Louis Palladin and Roberto Donna founded Pesce a quarter century ago. After Palladin passed away and Donna moved on, Palladin’s wife Regine Palladin took over. In 2017 she sold the restaurant to LaPorta, who had been working at Pesce for six years. The restaurant is best known for its blackboard menu of rotating seasonal specials and what LaPorta calls “fish-forward” cuisine.
The pop-up dubbed Pesce Too launched two weeks ago on the second floor of the bagel shop located at 317 7th St. SE. On warmer nights customers can also dine on the patio. Bullfrog Bagels owner Jeremiah Cohen previously hosted a successful Tibetan pop-up called Dorjee Momo in the space.
LaPorta is serving a truncated version of the Dupont Circle menu with a few dishes that are unique to Pesce Too. Highlights include Nantucket Bay scallops and braised oxtail with whipped potatoes ($16); seared “#1 sexy tuna” with eggplant, pomegranate, olives, and miso broth ($16); Portuguese octopus with chickpeas, ginger, and yogurt ($16); and linguine with Littleneck clams, garlic, white wine, olive oil, and crust ($26).
“We have the luxury of being small, which means that if I run out of tuna at 8:30 at night, I’m cool with it,” LaPorta says. “It means tuna will be fresh and sexy the next day. That’s our ethos. We don’t have to do what larger fish restaurants have to do to stretch their product a little more. I order 5 to 10 pounds at a time and when we run out, we run out.”
LaPorta also says he likes pushing diners to try new things. “There’s always something we can offer people besides the salmon and tuna,” he says. “I try to put people into something they haven’t had before like a beautiful skate wing, or a gorgeous whole fish at the pop-up that we don’t do at Pesce.”
The whole fish preparation is reflective of Southeast Asian cuisine—LaPorta grew up in the region and his wife is from Laos. He serves the chili and lemongrass flavored fish with lettuce wraps, a dipping sauce, bean sprouts, and tomatoes.
After the three months of the Pesce Too pop-up are through, LaPorta says he’s going to take on a new theme. “I’m going to work out a fresh Southeast Asian salad and mixed grill concept that’s been rattling around in my head for a while,” he says. “It’s time to let it come out.” Expect that to launch this summer.
The drink menu at Pesce Too is similar to what’s offered in Dupont. They’ll stock many of the same wines and beers while LaPorta says the focus of the cocktails is booze mixed with fresh-squeezed juices. His favorite is the “Ted’s Success” with gin, grapefruit juice, and Prosecco.
Dinner is served Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations are available on OpenTable.
Pesce Too, 317 7th St. SE; pescedc.com