Once the most original and expensive Asian restaurant in town, Germaine's is no longer either, though you still can run up a hefty tab, and the new dishes each season are indeed inventive. Germaine's, though, is not in its prime these days. On my last visit the kitchen needed a little polish: The once-wonderful fresh sweet-tart scallop and lime salad with pine nuts had a less zippy dressing, the formerly juicy satays hovered around dryness, the dumplings were dull and the Thai chicken wings were not nearly as crisp, moist and flavorful as at most Thai restaurants. Main dishes did better; soft-shell crabs were heightened by their black bean sauce and noodles were a complexity of flavors and textures. But beef and asparagus had no special flair.

Germaine's has good food, and its spare modern dining room is elegant. But in the hassle a weekend night the staff can lose its personal touch. And no matter how knowledgeably constructed the wine list, how seasonal the ingredients or how broad the repertoire, the satisfaction over such a pan-Asian dinner should come from dishes being clearly more distinguished than they are at less grand oriental restaurants. We expect a lot from Germaine's, and this restaurant is capable of delivering it. But last time it left me hungering for the food to live up to that potential. 2400 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 965- 1185. L $6.75-$12.95, D $8.95- $24.95. L daily ex Sat, Sun, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.