Lunch from 11:30 to 4:30 and dinner 5 to 9:30 on Monday through Saturday; Sunday 12 to 5. Lunch and dinner menus vary slightly. Complete dinner with carafe wine, tax and tip totals about $12 per person.

In the restaurant business, there are chains and there are chains. Some of them are so hemmed in by company rulebooks and recipes that they resemble vast culinary bureaucracies. Other chains are more flexible, with individual franchises adapting to local tastes and to what's available fresh in the area. That's the case with Forty Carrots, a small California-based firm with a franchised outlet at the Lake Forest Mall. (There are also smaller Forty Carrots restaurants at Bloomingdale's, but their menu is completely different.)

The food ranges from California-mod standards -- like quiches and hamburgers on whole wheat buns with bean sprouts -- to some noteworthy originals. Some dishes are acceptable but ordinary, a few sub-par and a few others downright delightful. That means if you order carefully you can design a very good meal here at a fairly reasonable price.

Among the best bets are the soups, different each day and made on the premises with the kind of care that assures lively vegetables and flavorful broths. Another clear winner is called "healthy quesadilla," a light, flaky wheat tortilla filled with the thinnest layer of melted cheese, diced green pepper, onion and tomato. Dipped in guacamole and sour cream and eaten with the fingers like pizza, it combines contrasting flavors and textures in an altogether beguiling way.

Salads, too, are worth ordering. Even the ones that come with the entrees are generous in size, with fresh leaf lettuce and romaine, slices of cheese and good house dressing livened with crunchy sunflower seeds.

Fried zucchini maybe last year's fad food, but don't give up on it until you've tried the tempura-like gem at Forty Carrots. The portion will easily serve three or four as an appetizer.

Less outstanding but still commendable is pasta del mar, an almost-chewy spinach pasta with good fresh seafood, compromised, however, by an over-oily garlic-herb sauce. There's also an airy quiche and a light, bright little dish called vegetables Italiano that would be improved by less melted mozzarella and more garlic and herbs.

Clear losers are the hamburgers, with dry and flavorless meat, and the heavy-duty lumps called carrot-corn fritters.

The delightful zucchini-chocolate cake (it's better than it sounds) exemplifies the kind of local innovation that the Forty Carrots chain apparently permits. It's the manager's own recipe, and it's a dandy, with a deep, dark chocolate flavor, a hint of what tastes like citrus fruit beneath the chocolate and a tart frosting laced with cream cheese. The carrot cake, too, is worth a try.

As to the decor at Forty Carrots, expect the standard California-mod accoutrements, ad predictable in their own way as the arches at McDonalds: light oak tables, Breuer-style chairs, hanging plants, fresh flowers in Perrier bottles, chrome-framed prints and track lighting. What else? And why not?