107 Loudoun St. SW, Leesburg, Va. 703/777-1471 Open for dinner only 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday,

until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and

Monday. V, MC, Choice. Reservations suggested. Appetizers: $3.25 to $5.50, entrees $9 to $18. Full dinner with

wine, tax and tip about $35 a person.

THE CLOSER WE GET TO SNOW TIME, it seems, the more we yearn for a drive out to the country. Or maybe it is just the holidays' reviving the nostalgia for tradition. But Washington's countryside has only recently furnished gastronomic destinations worth the trip.

So Jordan's was a surprise. Right in the middle of Leesburg, with a sign so subtle you might easily miss it, is a first- rate restaurant, one that would stand up readily to downtown Washington competition in food, service and environment.

It doesn't look like the country inn of your fantasies; instead, it is a sophisticated postmodern design, all Leesburg outside, very New York inside. A walkway leads alongside of the building to reveal a glass facade and whimsical details of archways and balconies that are decorative rather than substantial. Inside the colors are subtle and change with the light, sometimes looking mauve, other times taupe or gray, contrasting with a few abstract paintings in deep jewel colors. The lighting is a soft glow, the dining room has sweeping curves, the flowers look picked from some nearby garden.

The food is every bit as sophisticated as the architecture, and is similarly modern but grounded in tradition. The plates look pretty without being precious, and the cooking shows fresh ideas without getting silly. What's more, over a period of months I have tasted 10 main dishes with hardly one being less than delicious. Impressive record.

Jordan's wine list is small and erratic; if you are looking for good values, skip past the California wines to the French ones. In fact, with an '81 Ch.ateau Garraud at under $12 and most main courses under $14, you could put together an exceptional dinner for less than $30.

To start, there could be the gentle, smooth chicken liver mousse with green peppercorns or a mound of supple and delicate smoked scallops with horseradish-apple cream sauce. Fritto misto, an appetizer of fried vegetables and cheese, is an outstanding job of frying, the batter lacy and crisp with no trace of greasiness. The bright, fresh salsa is an interesting accompaniment. There are also steamed mussels or clams with garlic and white wine, plump and plentiful; and there might be artichokes or fresh fruit or seafood cocktail.

Main dishes number eight to 10, and are likely to include a strip steak with bearnaise, veal with shiitake mushrooms, lamb in brochette or rack, salmon in some form, a seafood, a pasta and, around this time of year, game -- pheasant or rabbit, perhaps. While you might find a balsamic vinegar sauce for calf's liver -- superb liver, beautifully cooked -- or ginger- lime sauce for scallops -- juicy scallops with a crunch of julienned vegetables and a suave and piquant sauce -- there are no gimmicks, just fine cooking. Pheasant is marinated, grilled to perfect crustiness and juiciness, seasoned with lemon butter. Crab cakes are light and creamy, the crab meat impeccable and highlighted rather than overwhelmed with red and green peppers. Salmon is velvety, gentled by a beurre blanc with tarragon or chunks of fresh tomato. And lamb has been the best of all: crusty, rare marvelous lamb with an aromatic gloss of tarragon sauce, a preparation that could have been improved only by serving it on a hot plate. Pasta has been a lovely tangle of just-al-dente thin noodles with creamy gorgonzola-mascarpone sauce clinging to them.

Surely there are flaws. The tuna one night was tough, though it had not been overcooked, and its sauce of tomaoes, onion, celery and pine nuts was a savory accent. Endive-walnut salad was indifferent, yet spinach salad was wonderfully tangy, and a summertime tomato salad was memorable.

Overall, Jordan's has a sure hand with sauces -- light, fra-

grant, piquant, each one very

different. And it goes to some

trouble with vegetables, serving au gratin potatoes with

some dishes, saut,eed new

potatoes with others, and an

orange squash or carrot

pur,ee, or butter-infused broccoli florets.

Desserts are lesser lights, though still awfully good. Chocolate charlotte and chocolate- nut mousse cake were intensely chocolatey, the apple-black currant pie with a lattice crust was tart and flavorful, and the after-dinner butter cookies and chocolate truffles are a fine finish. The crer, the cheesecake less gelatinous, but in the light of such a satisfying restaurant that seems picky.

Enough said. Particularly since this is a small, out-of-the- way restaurant that typifies those we want to keep secret for just our friends.