No question. There have been broader populist movements.

Like the lettuce boycott, which caught on fine. Grapes, too. But Russian or Iranian caviar? Somehow, it seems about as effective as smashing your Waterford.

Nonetheless, from a select few restaurants, hotels, caterers, fishmongers and hostesses of Washington come the early twitching of an anti-caviar campaign. Whether Iranian or Russian, the gloppy little fish eggs represent -- to a handful of food-minded patriots, at least -- a coziness with Soviet troops in Afghanistan or a fondness for the ayatollah.

"It's the least we can do for the hostages," says Bernie Furin, the general manager of Braun's Fine Caterers who announces his boycott in funereal tones.

Others are flag-wavers. "Our proprietor," comes the pronouncement from the Madison Hotel, "says that we are patriotic. As far as we're concerned, we will not serve the Russian vodka or the Russian caviar."

Some stress the alternatives. "We're selling less expensive Scandinavian red and black lumpfish," proclaims William C. Eacho III, executive vice president of the Washington Fish Exchange.

A few are pragmatic: "If we don't go the the Olympics," reasons hostess Ina Ginsburg, who says she adores the fish eggs, "we shouldn't eat their caviar -- right?"

Well, uh, right. That response comes from Ridgewell's Caterers, the firm that has to think real fast when the boycott question is raised.

"Are we boycotting caviar?" echoes Bruce Ellis. Ridgewell's vice-president. Silence. More silence. (Is he thinking about the $1,200 worth of Russian sevruga he has in the refrigerator?) But finally: "You know better than to ask a question like that. Ah . . . I don't know. But it's not a bad idea. And we are displaying the American flag outside our office every day."

Well, that about wraps up the patriotic boycotters. Now from an economist/ /realist/financier:

"If a customer asks me for it at $450 for 14 ounces," says John Orcino of Avignone Freres caterers. "I'm gonna get it.That's (here the chinka-chinka of an adding machine sounds in the background) $32 an ounce. You ought to buy that stuff and put it on.

"I've got $1,350 worth of caviar sitting in my refrigerator," he says. "I'm not in business to lose money -- I mean, $1,350 is a lot of money -- right? Let somebody else boycott it. I'll sell it to The Washington Post -- then you can throw it down the sewer."

No reports of that yet. Certainly not from the number one American caviar distributor who says flatly, "No, we're not boycotting caviar. We're selling caviar."

His reasoning? "Gasoline comes from Iran -- and we still use it."

The speaker is William Zee, who is based in Los Angeles and who, with a French associate, controls all Russian and Iranian roe imported to the United States. That, according to Arnold Hansen-Sturm of Romanoff Caviar Company in Teaneck, N.J., amounted to about 50 metric tons 10 years ago. It's expected to drop to about 5 to 10 metric tons in 1980 because of climbing costs, the Iranian revolution and even scarcer numbers of beluga sturgeon, which produce the Dom Perignon of caviar.

The sturgeon is one terrifically fat fish. It can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, swims in the Capian Sea and produces the eggs connoisseurs will pay very, very dearly for.

Like $315 for a 14-ounce tin, an item about the size of say, the pint of Half-n-Half you buy at the Safeway. Or calculated by the tablespoon, about $10 per gulp.

Not that everyone is inclined in swallow. Many Americans abhor not only the price but the salty taste and questionable considency as well. Even in the 16th century, caviar didn't have much mass appeal.

As Hamlet put it: "His play, I remember, pleased not the million, 'twas caviare to the general."

Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, a major Washington distributor of Iranian and Russian caviar is now looking for more of the American

"They tell me," says Marvin Stirman, the distributor, "that they have customers who just won't buy Russian or Iranian caviar, its not the cost, because anybody who's going to spend that kind of money isn't worried about an extra $5, I think it's political."

Still, there are those who think that foreign caviar belongs not in politics but exactly where it usually is -- on silver platters and crushed ice. Fish eggs, they say, have nothing to do with Soviet tanks in Kabul or 50 American hostages in Tehran.

"You think that caviar has something to do with politics?" asks Martin Garbisu, maitre d' of the Jockey Club. "Don't you like to have a beautiful bottle of champaigne in the morning with a nice toast of caviar? There's nothing wrong with that."

Needless to say, that's one establishment where you can still get a bit of beluga to whet your palate before dinner. The morning wake-up snack, on the other hand, you may have to orchestrate yourself.

"Food and politics are two different things," reasons Pierre Sosnitsky, the maitre d' of the Sans Souci who says he's still offering beluga at $16 per serving. It comes with capers, parsley, onions and a nice little chopped egg.

"Food is food," he says, "and business is business."

Le Bagatelle is still serving caviar, too, as is B & B Caterer's. "Listen, I serve Democrats, Republicans, Communist embassies and everything in between" says its vice president, Bill Birgfeld. "How can I boycott?"

Not suprisingly, you can get all you want of caviar at the Serbian Crown restaurant, which specializes in Russian food. "It didn't come to our minds not to serve it," says Rene Bertagar, a co-owner.

Canyon's Seafood in Georgetown, one of the largest rish retailers in Washington, is letting its customers make the boycott decision for themselves. "As long as our customers want it," says Annette Nalevanko, the owner's assistant, "we'll have it." She adds, however, that demand hasn't been great since the holidays. And those who want it usually ask for Russian, not Iranian.

As for the rest of Washington's food mavens, many say to boycott or not to boycott isn't even a question.

The White House, for instance, proudly says the presidents hasn't served so much as a teaspoon of caviar since he moved from Plains. And in the Senators' Dining Room in the Capitol, where braised lamb shanks for $3.85 are standard lunch fare, caviar is something the legislators have to bring in their own brown bags.

"Too high priced," says John Kay, the assistant director for food service.

"There's nothing we can do with it."

Then there are the embassies. As it turns out, most of those known for delectable or exotic food say they never serve caviar much, anyway.

"Serving what?" asks the man at the Chinese embassy. "It's kind of fish eggs, right?"

"I'm not concerned about caviar," says Ali Bengelloun, the Moroccan ambassador. "I am concerned about lamb, about chicken, about conscous.

"We just don't use it," says Roland F. Tidy, a first secretary at the British embassy.

"We have our own," says Ulla Wachmeister, wife of the Swedish ambassador. "From a small fish called a bleach, I think. It's much more delicate than the one you buy in a tin, and it's not so salty." Lots of Washingtonians haven't ventured past the Scandinavian or domestic brands, either.

"I haven't served anything but red caviar or lumpfish for the last 20 years," says Margot Haln, a woman who entertains a great deal. It's from the Safeway -- via Connecticut. The other stuff is dreadful. You eat it, and it turns your teeth black."