SEPT. 5, "Ryan's Hope" Barry is seducing Lily. Lily knows he is into another women's soul, and she is down. Their auras are so close, so distinctly in each other's cosmos. Barry won't give up the other girl even though he "wants" Lily madly. Lily is really stupid and tells him it's cool, that maybe they can share him. Barry's not averse to that idea. Then, Lily turns to him with a sly, come-get-me look and says: "Remember, if you ever get sick of side orders, you can order onion rings."

Holy cow!

She could have said French Fries, or cole slaw, but she said O. R. -- not exactly at the apex of romantic images.

SEPT. 15. Daily Planet, Connecticut Avenue, True Story -- It's happy hour, cheap drinks. Businessman is trying to seduce woman from the office.Woman knows he is married, but figures a drink and snack won't hurt. They are talking work dirt. She picks up an onion ring with fast, vermillion-painted nails and is about to give him some line, but notices there is grease leaking from the onion orbit down her hand. The moment is ruined. Definitely epicene.

"Deep-fat frying, like a number of other accomplishments . . . " says the "Joy of Cooking," "is an art in itself -- an art in which experience is the best teacher."

An adequate restaurant ought to be able to handle deep-fat frying, and that even can be considered a guide to the restaurant's fastidiousness. But in most instances, when we went searching for the best fried onion rings in Washington, the rings were coated with a heavy batter laden with oil. Or they tasted like raw pancake batter. However, there was one good by-product of the search: We discovered the most fantastic "dives" -- anachronistic hangouts with no smug ferns, Topsiders of blow-dried hair.

A well-prepared fried onion ring should have a thin crisp coating, not as papery as tempura. When you bite into it the onion's skin shouldn't pull away, left wagging. Most importantly there should be a taste of onion. If the onion hasn't been overfried, it won't collapse and lose its skin or shape. The bad ones, which we have left unlisted because of their number (20 onion rings were tasted), were not only unctuous, but the onion was sometimes riced like a potato croquette. And frozen.

The good results of the search are listed below:

The Corn Exchange (100 King St., Alexandria): After we waited 25 minutes the waitress accurately said, "Believe me, they are worth the wait, and I don't say that about much of our food." Slightly greasy, but thin tempura-like batter coating a still slightly crisp onion.

Tony vagnozzi, the originator of the recipe, soaks the onions in ice cold water; when they are crisp enough he dries them and mixes up a beer batter using 12-hour-old beer, baking powder, flour and a small amount of salt. The rings are then fried in peanut oil that is filtered every night and changed every three days.

Whitey's (Near the corner of Washington Blvd. and Pershing Dr., Arlington): Dark wood-paneled walls, all-you-can-eat, hand-painted signs, Formica-topped booths, this is a great dive. But with dives (this is meant merely to be an affectionate term) things are chancy. Evening onion rings are better than afternoon, says $99[WORDS OMITTED] in the evening -- beer-batter, sweet, crispy insides and cheap -- $1.35. Whitey's also sells broasted chicken that is delicious.

The Post Pub, 1422 L St. NW: Best Dive Runner-Up. Some more booths, lower ceilings, ect. Here you get a choice -- with or without cheese. These onion rings are evenly fried, flakey and not greasy. Basil, the evening bartender, sings very well to the jukebox.

James Carter uses fresh Bermuda onions that he peels, slices and separates into rings. He then soaks them in cold water until crisp and dips them in flour. He makes up a batter of eggs, milk and seasoning, then coats them in cracker meal. The rings are left to dry for about 30 minutes to keep the coating from falling off when deep fried.