You won't ever see a whole monkfish, and there is a good reason. You would simply stand there and gasp. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. But customers who know about monkfish swoon when they find it in area fish markets, and others are easily persuaded when they hear it referred to as "poor man's lobster."

Monkfish (a.k.a. goosefish and angler fish) used to be considered a nuisance to fishermen who couldn't avoid scooping up this North Atlantic bottom fish in their scallop dredges or deep sea nets.

Now the fish is being "packed in" and is finding its way to American dinner tables. Three fish markets that opened in the past year in Northern Virginia try to carry monkfish, although all recommend calling first to be sure they have it.

It does have that mild lobster taste. Ron Lunstrom, research technologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester, Mass., said the similarity is more in the texture.

"The more butter you use, the more it tastes like lobster," said Moe Cheramie, owner of the Old New Orleans Seafood Market in McLean.

"So cheap," murmur the French when they find it here, happily surprised at the recent $3.59 a pound price. Monkfish is a prized delicacy in Western Europe where the price is much steeper.

It is one of those nearly perfect fishes. Marketed in thick, pearly white slabs, there are no bones and, when broiled, the smooth, moist flesh curls up just like a lobster tail.

The seafood markets recommend slicing the fillets into steaks or medallions about 1 1/2 inches thick. These may be baked, broiled, poached or simply fried in any recipe that calls for lobster.

"The frames inake a wonderful stock," said C. Derek Walker of Port City Seafood in Alexandria. As for its popularity with wholesale customers, he noted: "I don't think any of my restaurants do it, but I know that monkfish does end up on some restaurant tables as lobster meat."

The brutish looking monkfish (lophius americanus ) has an enormous broad head that is usually disposed of at sea. It has the wide, wicked grin of a Cheshire cat illustration. Pectoral fins are attached to short "arms" somewhat like those of a seal.

The "angler" name comes from the elongated first dorsal spire, which the fish dangles like a lure in front of its own mouth. In effect, it is fishing for its own dinner. There is more, but the description doesn't get any better. Just think about the lobster taste.