The cornish hens were roasted to nutty crispness. Oven-browned potatoes were carved and toasted until they were more like truffles than tubers; the zucchini subtly stuffed with cheese and herbs.

Fresh pineapple in the fruit cup might tend to brown, the clerk allowed. Instead of old-fashioned fruit, she offered tactfully, the perfect precursor to the nontraditional feast -- "something no one else will be doing" -- would be fresh sorbet, served in crystal stemware with a flat bowl.

Oh, yes, nodded the woman in the mink jacket, "I do have the Waterford." Her fingers outlined what was called a champagne glass before flutes replaced saucers for sparkling wines.

Scoop the sorbet into the glasses. Pop the pre-cooked hens, potatoes and zucchini into the microwave. Instant Thanksgiving.

The guests may never know the entire meal came in little plastic cartons from the takeout department of Sutton Place Gourmet's new store on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.

They do sell turkeys, along with the fresh ducks, French chickens and quail, but only the resurgence of American cuisine has kept the old bird from being abandoned by a generation of trendy eaters.

Sutton Place Gourmet owner Jeffery Cohen did not build what he modestly describes as the world's largest gourmet store to sell turkeys, or to sell to turkeys. It is yuppies he wants, quiche-eaters and proud of it. The kind of people who will salivate over balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, especially if it delicately coats a salad of radicchio and rare goose liver. The kind of people who will pay $1.95 for four onions from Maui or $5.95 for half a pint of strawberries from New Zealand or $19.95 an ounce for truffles.

Cohen captured the heartburn and minds of the gourmet generation when he opened his first store on New Mexico Avenue, halfway between Georgetown and Spring Valley. The store became known affectionately as Sutton Pig -- as in suckling pig, an appropriate symbol of the uninhibited approach to food that has fattened the original Sutton Place into an $8 million-a-year operation.

Cohen is convinced there are enough food fetishists in Bethesda and Potomac to invest $4 million more in a second store and risk starting a gourmet war with Giant.

Less than five minutes by Volvo from the suburban Sutton Pig is the Rockville Pike Giant, the store that has already stolen the title of Washington's Highest Volume Supermarket away from the Georgetown Safeway. Even bigger than ordinary Giants, the Rockville store has been infused with meats, produce and plentifuls from Someplace Special, the McLean store called "The Wretched Excess Giant" by some of its fans.

Though neither of the owners likes to acknowledge the similarities, Someplace Special and the Sutton Place suburban Gourmet are two peas in a pod. The Wretched Excess Giant goes in for neon, the suburban Sutton Pig for polished brass, but the cuisine and the customers are the same.

"Izzy Cohen chairman of Giant Food is very good at what he does, but we are not in the same business," insists Sutton Place's Jeffrey Cohen. "Someplace Special is still a supermarket. We have customers who wouldn't be caught dead in Giant or Safeway."

Giant executives don't see Someplace Special quite that way. It is a unique store for unique customers, says vice president Al Dobbin, offering a modest description of the most unusual food store ever opened by a supermarket chain. Giant may never build another store that high up the food chain, he adds, but it will bring the best of Someplace Special to its other stores in affluent neighborhoods. What Giant has done on Rockville Pike is clone the most popular lines from the gourmet store onto an already top-of-the line supermarket.

Both Sutton Place and Giant are cashing in on what is called "The decade of competitive eating" by Margaret Engel, coauthor (with sister Allison) of "Food Finds," a guide to American regional specialty foods. No trivial pursuit, exotic eating has taken its place alongside healthclubs, automobiles, lawn watering and other games yuppies play.

The proliferation of fancy food stores is evidence that the yuppie life cycle has now gone full circle.

The young and upwardly mobile begin their careers as consumers by disposing of their excess income in restaurants, keeping one trend ahead of the Joneses by table hopping from the exotic to the nouvelle.

Once the realities of income taxes make homeowners of them, the yuppie elites move Hechingers to the top of their shopping list, satiating their appetities with imported lawn sprinklers and labor-saving log splitters.

The baby boom usually catches up with the nuclear yuppies about the time the house (or condo) is all fixed up; then Crib 'n Cradle and Toys 'R' Us become their favorite places to shop.

After the house and the baby, the hunger for haute cuisine remains, but so do the realities of baby sitters, orthodontist bills and two jobs. What better place is there than a gourmet grocery store for the upwardly mobile to satisfy their needs for conspicuous consumption?