"Fish pasta? No, we got no fish pasta."

The store manager was confused. It was fresh pasta we wanted . . . light, delicate pasta that melts on the fork, if not in your mouth . . . pasta you could eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner . . . noodles to smother in fresh tomato sauce, mushrooms and cream or just grated cheese and butter . . . elegant thin fettucine, tortellini with a pinch of fresh nutmeg, fusilli with basil, gnocci, manicotti and cavatelli . . . Basta!

Some people go to great lenghts searching for fresh ingredients when it comes to the sauce - then settle for dried-out pasta that's been sitting on the shelf for months. Although there are several good brands of dried pastas available, once you've tasted fresh it's hard to go back to the box.

But you don't have to have an Italian grandmother and/or to go to Little Italy to buy fresh pasta. Several stores in the Washington area stock fresh and fresh frozen pastas, along with semolina flour for making pasta at home.

Fresh pasta is in. There's even in a new restaurant on Connecticut Avenue called "Pettitos" that offers nothing but homemade pasta.

WHERE TO BUY FRESH PASTA

Bloomindales Tysons Corner (893-3500 ext. 224). The "Delicacies" department stocks freshly made (unfrozen) pasta from New York in several unusual varieties; spinach, egg, whole wheat, carrot and tomato noodles for $1.25 per 1/2-pound bag.

Columbia Delicatessen 1772 Columbia Rd. NW (HU3-7776). This tiny Italian speciality shop carries fresh-frozen pastas from Delaware, marketed under the brand names Primo, Mt. Rose and Silver Star. Gnocci (95 cents a pound), cavatelli (79 cents a pound), tortellini ($3.25 for 15 ounces) and rovioli ($1.95 a pound) are available, along with semolina (65 cents a pound) for making your own. Fresh homemade sausage (hot and mild), imported olive oils, Italian cheeses and meats will complete the feast.

Litteri, Inc. 519 Morse St. NE (L13-7193). Worth the trip just to see what a real Italian market looks (and smells) like. Fresh frozen spaghetti and fettucine from Delaware sells for 95 cents a pound. Semolina is 45 cents a pound. Generally cheaper and smaller markets. Litteri sells wholesale as well as retail. Sausage, meats, cheeses, imported olive oils as well as a good selection of imported (dried) pastas.

Luigi's of Bethesda 4919 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda (658-5882). They're not quite ready for retail sale yet, but Luigi's restaurant says it will sell its own fresh pastas (in small quantities) to customers who ask. Prices vary.

Mancuso's 2208 Rhode Island Ave.,NE (LA9-6225). A large selection of fresh-frozen pasta, featuring gnocci (85 cents a pound), cavatelli (69 cents for 15 ounces), ravioli ($1.25 and $1.10 a pound). Tortellini ($2.95 for 15 ounces) and manicotti (6 servings for $1.49.) are available. They also sell fresh-frozen stuffed shells ($1.75 for 12 shells) and a good selection of Italian delicacies.

Mangialardo & Sons, Inc. 1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (L13-6213). Silver Spring brand fresh-frozen pastas; cavatelli (99 cents per package), gnocci ($1.05 per pound), tortellini ($2.99 per package) ravioli (from $1.99 to $2.99), stuffed shells ($2.10 for 12 shells) and manicotti ($2.10 for six).

Marinelli's Delicatessen 2506 University Blvd., Hyattsville (422-8422). Primo brand fresh-frozen fettucine and spaghetti sell for $1.25 a pound. Dried pastas and olive oils, cheeses and meats also are offered.

Old World Market 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW (363-3220). Fresh, unfrozen fettucine and linguine noodles are made exclusively for the store by an Italian woman. Egg noodles are $1.19 for 1 1/2 pound, and spinach noodles sells for $1.29 per 1/2 pound. The egg or spinach lasagna noodles are frozen and sell for the same prices.

Viareggio Italian Delicatessen 3740 12th St. NE (526-5030). Owner Dora Bandoni makes fresh fettucine noodles, which she freezes and sells for $1.59 per pound. She also turns out homemade cannoli and spumoni. Call beforehand, as the small store often runs out. Cheese, meats, imported dried pastas and olive oil also availble.

Vace's 3510 Connecticut Ave. NW., (363-1999). The newest Italian specialty store in town, Vace's supplies the Caffe Italino restaurant next door with fresh pasta. Fettucine (unfrozen) is available for $1 a pound and comes in three varieties; egg, spinach and tomato. Fresh frozen pastas are gnocci ($1 a pound), manicotti ($2.50 for five servings), ravioli "$3 for 100) and the best selling tortellini (2.75 a pound). For Thanksgiving, the store is making pumpkin-filled ravioli. For making your own pasta, Vace's sells semolina for 50 cents a pound.