I continue to miss the old Nora. It was once casual, moderately priced, with food that was both upscale and down-to-earth. Now the dining room is more formal, and both food and prices are overambitious. Nora now costs as much as the top rung of restaurants, those with a hierarchy of servers from captain to sommelier. The environment and service here don't warrant the prices, and while the style of food might, its execution is not consistent enough.

Nora's ingredients are impeccable, and the larder is full of surprises, from the most rare fruits and berries to the wildest of greens for the salad. And the plates are arranged like artworks. No kitchen in Washington produces more visually delightful food.

And sometimes it tastes as wonderful as it looks. A swordfish salad with dill raised even that excellent fish to new heights of gentle texture and full, fresh flavor. But more often the food tastes ordinary or is a conglomeration of good flavors that don't meld. Cold dishes are more reliable than hot, and desserts tend to be the best of the lot.

Nora is a restaurant of great imagination and the energy to seek intriguing wines for every course right through dessert. The first of the season's culinary treasures are bound to hit Nora's stove early. However, the kitchen seems to pay more attention to thrilling your eyes than your palate, and the restaurant shows no modesty or mercy in its pricing. 2132 Florida Ave. NW. 462- 5143. L $12-$17, D $17-$24. L daily ex Sat, Sun. D daily. Closed Sun. No credit cards. Full bar.