It takes many years to smooth the inconsistencies of a fine wine, but it only took three to see Taste of the Town come of age. Last weekend's festival was a fine balance of highbrow and funk.

On Saturday, more than 21,000 people crammed in a year's worth of eating out into one day while 60 Washington restaurants sold hefty samples of their finest bill of fare at discount prices in the basement of the Sheraton Washington Hotel. An even larger crowd was expected yesterday.

The long lines of yesteryear had given way to quick, several-stop eating as a cross section of Washington area residents moved from one table to another, washing down the array of ethnic and American foods with various wines and beers. The more daring sank their teeth into a popular saute'ed shark and kangaroo stew; for the not-so-daring there were old favorites such as hamburgers, chili and chicken salad.

Most samples of food and wine averaged about $1, with proceeds going to Children's Hospital.

"I've been to all three and this is the best," said Melvena Sherard of West Hyattsville. "There are no lines and it's gotten more grass roots.

"I can stand only one of these a year, but I really look forward to it," she said. "I'm a foodaholic . . . it's saving me hundreds of dollars."

When visitors weren't eating, they were boogieing to 1950s rock 'n' roll, jazz or bluegrass at either end of the 60,000-square-foot room or sitting and watching each other enjoy a spirited summer afternoon. Clowns and magicians roamed the halls, entertaining adults and children.

Some people objected to Dominique's selling kangaroo stew, claiming that the animal is an endangered species. But that didn't stop people from eating more than 2,300 servings on Saturday.

The booths, designed by the restaurateurs, were eye-catching in their variety. In the same corner, a taster could find Ridgewell's serving beignets from silver trays while O'Brien's barbecued ribs were dispensed on paper plates from a vending wagon.

Although some have expressed a desire to hold future Taste of the Towns outdoors, organizer Sandy Whyte said she is adamant about keeping it inside. "That way you get across the idea that this is a cocktail party, not a picnic," she said. "We're not chasing 400,000 people, just those who are interested in dining out."

Not all, however, were in it strictly for the eating. "I plan to have a good time, drink some good wine and meet some good women," said Art Gonzales of Silver Spring. He had already had his fill of food.