Dining in the suburbs doesn't preclude eating good French food. Here are some restaurants that may save you a trip downtown.
LA BERGERIE -- 218 North Lee Street, Alexandria. 683-1007. L, D daily. Closed Sunday. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested, required on weekends. Full bar.
La Bergerie has a lot going for it -- an Old Town Alexandria location, a spacious and comfortable setting, a warm brick environment -- but most of all, a gracious and expert staff. The smaller room with its old-fashioned flowered wallpaper is particularly winning. As for the food, it's good rather than glorious; high-quality rather than exciting. The menu lists a few Basque specialties -- confit de canard, parillade des pecheurs, piperade -- but otherwise offers a standard French array of sole nantua, sweetbreads financiere, rockfish, scallops and rack of lamb, with the emphasis on fish. Desserts are outstanding -- perhaps a crisp, sweet tart shell filled with kiwis and strawberries atop soft custard, or a chocolate-and-vanilla g.ateau St. Honor,e. The food is fresh, the cooking competent, the presentation attractive. La Bergerie is agreeable rather than spectacular, and has the good sense to price itself accordingly. --PHYLLIS C. RICHMAN.
LA MICHE -- 7905 Norfolk Avenue, Bethesda. 986- 0707. L daily except Saturday, D daily. Closed Sunday. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted for lunch, required for dinner.
At La Miche, one of the best (and prettiest) French restaurants at its price, you may find salads composed with nutty arugula or oysters barely poached, then covered with an orange butter sauce with slivers of lime (one of Washington's best dishes). Main dishes shift with the daily specials. Veal may come under a blanket of cream sauce with pink peppercorns, or smoky with wild mushrooms. Tender sirloins may be topped with watercress sauce or slabs of marrow. The lobster, split and crowned with its whole shelled claws and drizzled with a light butter sauce accented by pernod, is marvelous. Occasionally the kitchen slips badly -- half a rabbit was smothered in a mustard sauce so heavy-handed and chalky that it was inedible. If you don't mind having to order dessert at the same time as the aperitifs, try some good souffl,es -- the usual chocolate and Grand Marnier, of course, and a sublime hazelnut. The wine list is unadventurous; a decent bottle is $12. --DANIEL ZWERDLING & BARBARA ROTHSCHILD.
LE CHEVAL ROUGE -- 8330 Old Courthouse Road (Tycon II Building), Tysons Corner. 356-0300. L daily except Saturday, D daily. Closed Sunday. AE, MC, V. Reservations. Full bar.
Le Cheval Rouge is a refreshing and comforting surprise in the concrete plains of Tysons Corner. Its best appetizers are soups: Cream of mushroom and cream of broccoli are delicate, creamy but not heavy, tasting clearly of their vegetables but still subtle. Main dishes are less easy to predict: They range from very good to drab, but lean toward the ordinary. The best is duck, moist and fat-free with a full, gamey flavor and crisp skin. Sea scallops with caviar are also pleasant. Rack of lamb, however, has been juiceless, soft and bland. Red snapper has a stiff texture; pepper steak isn't properly seared to seal in flavor and its creamy sauce falls flat. This is a kitchen that tries hard but slips in important details. But it's a reasonably professional neighborhood French restaurant where you can get a good meal and spend a relaxing evening. Just don't mistake its upscale prices as proof of a major French restaurant.--P.C.R.
LE VAGABOND -- 7315 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda. 654-2575. L daily except Saturday, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Now you can choose not only French restaurants in Bethesda but also French with a Rumanian flair. That's Le Vagabond, tucked in an anonymous office building's basement made cozy with paintings and classical music. Dinner begins before the menu arrives, with tiny toasts and a crock of fluffy carp roe with onions. There are onion soup and snails, but more interesting, there are also blini with caviar, dill-scented salmon with mustard sauce (gravlax) and a delicious cold grilled trout with onions and capers. You can order veal with lemon or steak au poivre -- but you can also try Rumanian mixed grill with sweetbreads and spicy sausage. The food is usually good; the owner explains every dish with flair; and at last, here's a restaurant where you can order beef Wellington or rack of lamb for one. We wish, though, that they'd skip the dining room cooking: The chef sent the lamb rare, as ordered, but the waiter overcooked it with his tableside flaming. And the prices are starting to climb beyond the quality. But if you live nearby, Le Vagabond is worth the short voyage. --D.Z. & B.R.