A READER wrote to compliment the training of the servers at Ecco in Ballston Common. When he told his waitress that he could eat no butter, cream or cheese because he was lacto-intolerant, she was able to recite the ingredients of each dish; the owner requires that, she said.

WIN ONE, LOSE ONE --

Another reader didn't have such good luck at Ballston Common, dining at Slade's. The waiter announced the special at $11.95 but the bill later said $12.95. As it turned out, the price had been raised while the waiter was on vacation, so he had been citing the old price. The manager refused to change the bill, and the restaurant gained a dollar but lost a customer.

When owner Bob Slade was called about this incident he immediately sided with the customer. "We have to back up whatever mistake the waiter says," Slade declared. The waiter should have deducted the dollar and the manager should have directed him to do so. Then Slade went on to make good on it and try to retrieve his customer.

LOSE ONE, WIN ONE --

That same reader, lunching at The Odyssey in Fairfax, didn't have much luck with his waitress -- she got his order wrong twice -- so he had to leave for a meeting before he got his lunch. The owner, however, made up for the service deficiencies as best he could, with an apology to the diner and by not allowing his two tablemates to pay for their lunches. The hungry correspondent was impressed enough to return, with fine results.

PALE IMITATIONS --

For a while we were so proud of our Washington bagels. But now our ardor is cooling because their ovens are cooling. Too often I find bagels the color of an office pallor rather than a well toasted tan. Even the sesame seeds look pallid. Miles Lambert of Alexandria noticed, too, and complains that they often are like "a sort of Wonder Bread-looking doughnut."

The Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, for a while baking bagels to rival New York's, is the biggest letdown because I had the highest hopes for it. Chesapeake co-owner Michael Robinson says quality control is a major issue for the company, which has individual bakeries in each of its four company stores and five franchise units.

"It's not difficult to make a good bagel, but it's easy for carelessness to destroy the product," he said. Not only does each store bake independently, Robinson and his partner disagree on how brown a bagel should be, with Robinson arguing on the browner side, and his partner citing customer complaints that browned bagels are too hard. In any case, it is time for bagel buyers to take a stand and insist on full baking time.