LA COLLINE

If you can't face another chicken salad or pasta salad, you should keep in mind La Colline's entire menu. Some things transport better than others, of course: specials such as poached baby salmon-trout garnished with carrot flowers, and osso buco under a blanket of onions started out beautifully cooked and wound up at my table tepid but still fine. A short microwaving would improve things. Saute'ed vegetables such as zucchini with eggplant and potatoes boiled or saute'ed with onions fill out your platter. French bread and butter are included. And at La Colline, carryout food shows a refinement usually reserved for special occasions. 400 North Capitol St. 737-0400. AE, D, MC, V, CB. Carryout: Prices vary. Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 7 p.m.-10 p.m. LA PRIMA

The charm in a picnic from La Prima is more in the buying than in the eating, I am afraid. The shops are adorable -- glistening tile showrooms decorated with a profusion of breads and other food-as-art objects -- vegetable salads, submarine sandwiches, calzone and thick-crusted Sicilian pizzas. The menu is lunchtime stuff, and in the refrigerator there are nice pulpy orange and grapefruit juices along with a profusion of ultrachic bottled beverages (plus Dove Bars and fresh fruit pops in the freezer). But I didn't like the quality of some of the meats. Roast beef was fine, but the smoked turkey tasted like ham, the fresh turkey like sponge rubber. And the seafoods were of indifferent quality. Furthermore, the cooking is no great shakes; the calzone was pasty, the wild rice salad had been intensely vinegared. This is food to serve as a backdrop to a lunch hour on a sunny park bench or a quick get-together, an event where food is not the focus. 1490 G St. NW. 628-3218. No credit cards. Carryout: $2.69-$4.29. Mon-Fri 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. Closed Sat, Sun. Delivery: Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-6 p.m. for five people or more; $5-$10 fee; 5-block radius. LARIMER'S

After you've been to a few carryouts you begin to see the pattern. Pasta salad, chicken salad, marinated vegetables, potato salad. Larimer's has joined the group, with a display case of those and more substantial dishes such as stuffed chicken breast, Texas beef barbecue, plus traditional deli items such as whitefish salad and chopped liver. There are also hot entrees -- fish in wine sauce, perhaps, beef stew and chili. But Larimer's carryout needs a lot of improvement: whitefish salad was runny and very salty, chicken salad chewy, vegetable salad sharply vinegared. The best of the foods was the barbecue -- tender brisket in a feisty sauce that was oversweetened but had the right tang. 1727 Connecticut Ave. NW. 332-3366. C, MC, V. Carryout: $4.99-$7.99 per pound; Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m.-6:15 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Delivery: Mon-Sat 1 p.m.-5 p.m. for orders called in by 11 a.m.; $25 minimum; $3 delivery fee; call for radius of delivery. (Other location: 1669 Crystal Square, Arlington.) MEDITERRANEAN BAKERY

The crowds attest to the value of this wholesale-retail bakery and carryout, so expect to take your time browsing and buying. In addition to sweets, there are savory pastries, the soft pale golden dough formed into triangles or into open-topped squares that show the fillings. And all of those fillings are interesting, from the tomato-meat to the spinach- cheese to the cheese-nut or just spinach. The refrigerator is filled with containers of hummos, baba ghanouj, green beans marinated in tomato sauce, red pickled turnips, stuffed grape leaves -- all the makings of a cold mezze. But these dishes have varied in taste from more to less fresh, depending on the day. The pastries, on the other hand, not only are in great profusion -- honey-drenched phyllo filled with walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and such -- but are crisp, golden and very well made. You can find an equal variety of breads -- big doughnut-shaped sesame- crusted ones, the familiar pita, thinner ones that unfold to nearly the size of a small table and others topped with a mouth-searing profusion of herbs and olive oil. Then there are olives, all kinds and colors, and cheeses, probably more feta than you have ever seen in one place. This is not the place to find a traditional dinner, but a good source for hors d'oeuvres, snacks and nibbling meals. 374 S. Pickett St., Alexandria. 751-1702. MC, V. Carryout: 50 cents-$3.50. Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m. MIXTEC

Here's a carryout you want to visit in person -- in fact, you really ought to sit down and eat right there, since the food suffers from its ride home. This Mexican grocery-cafe' is a tiny wedge of Mexicana in Adams-Morgan. The menu is a long list of tacos, enchiladas and a few sauced sliced beef dishes. And it has the wonderful variety of sauces, peppers and seasonings missing in most fast-food Mexican restaurants. Try the tacos al carbo'n, its meat with a smoky grill taste. And the hot salsa is fresh, crunchy and tangy. The tortillas -- whether corn for tacos or flour for burritos -- are rough and homey, the refried beans pack a peppery punch and the portions are large but their prices are not. On the down side, the sliced meat dishes are chewy and dry, though their sauces such as pasilla pepper have an irresistible perfume. 1792 Columbia Rd. NW. 332-1011. No credit cards. Carryout: $1.95-$7.50. Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m. MONTICELLO CATERERS

It is a little hard to get down to the business of buying things at Monticello Caterers. This tiny shop seemed disorganized, and the people behind the counter acted reluctant to tell me what they had. I had to point to this and that bowl in the refrigerator and ask about each item; eventually I managed to put together a dinner. One thing I pointed to was a failure, they said; the rest of the chicken breasts were already sold, they added. The dinner itself seemed awfully inexpensive -- until I tasted the food. There was nothing I would return for except an aromatic pure'ed parsnip soup (the other soups were wan and salty). Chicken salad was an unpleasant ground chicken paste with nuts; egg salad, supposedly curried, had little flavor and pasta salad had even less. Spinach souffle' tasted watery and slick, as if it had hung around for days. There was one fine dish, though: a stir-fried beef with tender thickish beef slices, onions, snow peas and zucchini in a slightly sweet but not cloying sauce. And the lemon squares were tart and rich -- much better than the vapid orange squares.

Monticello's menus read temptingly, but its reality is a scrawny choice and not much to savor. 4816 MacArthur Blvd. 342-5429. No credit cards. Carryout: $2.95-$5.95. Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sun. Delivery: Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Sat 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. No fee; 3-mile radius. MOVABLE FEAST LTD.

In this tiny carryout shop the choice is larger than at most restaurants; even a half-hour before closing on a weekday, I found three dozen entrees and salads available for my dinner. And the range is wide, from little roasted game hens with fruit and nut stuffing (which reminded me that chicken on the bone simply doesn't reheat well) to several kinds of stew -- beef bourguignonne, veal with sausage and lamb tagine (the best of all the foods I tasted, tender lamb paired deliciously with apricots and onions). There are oriental stir-fries, Indian curries and Italian lasagna and tortellini. As I find repeatedly in haut carryouts, the cooking quality veers sharply from superb to dreary. On the up side were a tiny bacon-wrapped and pistachio-stuffed quail; paella with intense sea-and-saffron flavor and impeccable seafood; and tomato-sauced tortellini that showed quality in the pasta as well as the sauce. Not so pleasing were veal stew with dry, chewy meat and characterless wild rice and pasta salads. Other salads -- lentil and vegetables with pesto, for instance -- were all right but not memorable. The freezer has hors d'oeuvres such as little empanadas, which are reasonably good and certainly handy, and premium ice creams. As for pastries, they are brought from other bakeries and therefore also vary, but the choice is attractive. Movable Feast not only features seasonal foods for holidays, but it devises luxurious menus in case you want to order for an entire dinner party. 5504 Connecticut Ave. NW. 966-4512. No credit cards. Carryout: $4-$12 per serving. Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun noon-5 p.m. (summer hours are longer). Delivery: Daily for minimum order of 10 persons; rate varies; unlimited radius. NEGRIL

Ounce for ounce this must be one of the best bargains in the city; for under $4 you get a weighty portion of curried chicken, vegetables or goat, or oxtail stew, plus enough rice studded with red beans to feed at least two people. That's about it at Negril, along with meat patties (bright yellow and slightly tough pastry wrapping with moderately seasoned meat filling) or vegetable patties (pastry of milder color, filling of shockingly sweet minced vegetables), or meat loaf. There are also a few weighty pastries, a dense and rather dry coconut turnover and nicely spicy, moist and endearing carrot cake. It's homey food, but not worth a major detour except for the goat curry; sprightly in seasoning but not searing, its meat tender, lean and flavorful, it could convert the squeamish to accepting goat as even better-than-beef. 2437 18th St. NW. 232-8555. No credit cards. Carryout: $4.25-$6.50. Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun. (Other locations: 965 Thayer Ave., Silver Spring. 585-3000. 401 M St. SW. 488-3636.) OSCAR TAYLOR

Butcher, bakery and bar, this restaurant calls itself. But on a singles Friday night, not only can you pick a friend, you can also take home one of these steaks and cakes and dine in the comfort of your own kitchen. Most of the space is devoted to meat and fish -- steaks and veal chops cut thick but looking somewhat dried out in the refrigerator case, and fish on ice that looks flabby by the end of the evening. Cakes are brightly colored and creamy looking, perhaps to compete with the singles-bar glitz. And there are a few salads, the best of them being a mildly sweet, crunchy coleslaw and dark, spicy applesauce. You can buy a quiche or a few marinating vegetables, usually some combination with canned artichoke hearts and olives. They taste decent, but not distinctive. Or you can get the barbecued ribs, chicken or shrimp, potato skins, onion rings, a burger or a "garbage salad" from the restaurant menu. The burger is a good one, but $7.75 seems a lot for carryout hamburger; the salad is a hefty, tasty mix of shrimp, salami, cheeses and vegetables, which is pretty good. The ribs are soggy and far from Washington's best, but the onion rings and barbecued shrimp are fine. In all, the carryout looks attractive enough, but a mere garnish to the rest of Oscar Taylor's activity, an accompaniment to the question: "Your place or mine?" 11858 Rockville Pike, Rockville. 468-6600. AE, C, D, MC, V. Carryout: $2.75-$21.95. Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. POLONEZ

Eastern European foods are pretty hard to come by in this area. So Polonez is a unique source for anyone homesick for babke and pirogen. The pirogen are brought frozen from New Jersey, and unfortunately taste rather bland, which makes the sauerkraut-filled ones a better choice than the potato or cheese. The babke, and small jam-filled flaky cookies, are made on the premises and truly taste of the old world. There are also some interesting homemade breads such as a six-grain loaf, and among the salads are a wonderful egg salad crunchy with minced onion, and a vegetable-potato salad with diced apple and pickles in a creamy egg-rich mayonnaise. Polonez sells more varieties of Polish sausage than I knew existed: fresh, smoked, double-smoked and long, thin dried ones. And it makes sandwiches of its cold cuts -- head cheese that could use a lot more flavor and ham are the most ethnic ones -- or salads. What sets the shop apart is not that it offers much in the way of meals-for-home, but that it sells a few things unavailable elsewhere and offers a friendly little education in Polish cuisine along the way. 8113 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 495-2650. No credit cards. Carryout: $2.49-$5.99. Mon-Thurs 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Sat 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Closed Sun. Delivery: Times vary. $15-$20 minimum; fee varies; 30-mile radius. ROSSINI'S ITALIAN MARKET

It's all in the dough. Rossini's sells pizzas with a wonderful bubbly, chewy crust, and enormous calzones and strombolis that owe their quality to the same doughy base. So if you are looking for pizza and its close relatives, this is a fine place to look. The subs, though, are another matter, largely because of their squishy, gummy bread, but also because the fillings are low on meat and the quality of the meat is nothing special. Then there are the salads: several pasta salads, maybe marinated vegetables such as artichoke and heart of palm, white asparagus, cauliflower. And they are clearly forgettable. Rossini's also stocks homemade frozen lasagna, manicotti, sauces and the like, plus pastries -- mostly from Watergate Bakery. On balmy days you can eat your carryout food at outdoor tables, then finish with gelato. But if the environment is not part of your purchase, the pizza is what makes your visit worth the effort. 5505 Connecticut Ave. NW. 244-2440. No credit cards. Carryout: $1.18-$13.99. Mon-Thurs 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri, Sat 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m.-9 p.m. SAFEWAY

If you're stuck finding a ready-made picnic at Safeway, stick to the tried and true brand-name processed foods. High-quality canned tuna and sardines, good salamis, cheeses, packaged hummos and canned imports such as caponata and olives can get you through deliciously. The house-made foods taste more like school lunch than picnic. Chicken salad is thick, gummy and tasteless; artichoke salad would be all right except for stem ends of various vegetables being included. Potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw -- well, they're filling. Almost anything straight from the produce counter will serve you better. Various locations. No credit cards. Carryout only. SICHUAN GARDEN

Once Washington's most exquisite Chinese kitchen, this restaurant has turned into one of the most dismal. In fact, I can't remember eating worse Chinese food from a restaurant. And while carryout is 10 percent less than menu prices, it is still expensive. Shrimp in garlic sauce, rather small shrimp in a strong soy-based glue, were nearly $11. Gummy beef Chung King-style was nearly $10. And the three new soups the restaurant is touting as taking 24 to 48 hours to prepare and as promoting good health were thin and wan except for a medicinal aftertaste. A bright spot: dumplings were finely wrought of delicate dough, though their sauce was too dark and intense. It is unfathomable how such a culinary slide could have been so steep. 1220 19th St. NW. 296-4550. AE, D, MC, V. Carryout: $6.50-$18. Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m; 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. Delivery: Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; no fee; four-block radius. SO'S YOUR MOM

I have despaired of ever getting a real deli in Washington. But I am comforted by a few things at So's Your Mom. The pastrami -- brought from New York -- is a revelation to Washingtonians who haven't had the benefit of such spicy, firm, grainy, flavorful pickled and smoked meats. The corned beef is more tangy and salty than the usual bland Washington version, and it is impeccably trimmed. The chopped liver is fragrant with onion and chicken fat, as smooth but studded with meaty bits as a proper Jewish mother would make. I would quarrel that blintzes should be more fragile and you should be warned if they are cherry rather than cheese, and the potato salad needs less green pepper, and nova scotia salmon shouldn't be mushy. And I would emphasize that without good rye bread a deli is nothing. But then So's Your Mom would cajole me with a nice slick macaroni salad spiked with olives and salami, and with a sweetly meaty stuffed cabbage, and with warmhearted service. If we're never going to get a New York-class deli, at least So's Your Mom will keep for us a scent of the tradition. 1831 Columbia Rd. NW. 462-3666. No credit cards. Carryout: $2.50-$5 Mon-Sat 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun 8 a.m.-2 p.m. SUSHI EXPRESS

You can carry out sushi from almost any Japanese restaurant, and it is no more expensive than here -- $1 to $1.25 per piece. So what's the advantage of an all-carryout sushi bar? You don't have to compete with table service or large orders for the sushi maker's attention, so you will probably get your order faster. Otherwise, there is no special advantage. The fish is about average in quality, the skill is of middling level and the choice of fish is routine. There are, however, a few bargain-priced specials -- three maki (rolls) for $6.50, and assortments of sushi starting at $4.50, sashimi at $5.50. And you can call ahead to have your order ready for instant pickup. 1906 K St. NW. 659-1955. No credit cards. Carryout: $4-$9.50. Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat noon-5 p.m. Delivery: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-noon; 4 p.m.-5 p.m. $30 minimum; no fee; 2-block radius. THE SUSHI SHOP AT NEW WAVE SEAFOOD MARKET

The fish certainly looks fresh at this little sushi corner within the New Wave Seafood Market, and that was borne out in the sampling, for the tuna and yellowtail are as sweetly clean tasting as any I have found in this town. The selection is broad: there are nigiri-style and maki-style sushi and sashimi a la carte or in combination and there are hand rolls and chirashi -- trays of rice topped with seafoods -- at reasonable prices. And the work is slow, so I would place an order, then shop around this wonderful ethnically varied shopping center, or I would call ahead. If your taste is not for sushi, you can also buy a lobster feast to cook: two "very live" lobsters, 20 fresh shrimp, 20 mussels, 20 clams, a one-pound fish fillet, six potatoes, two ears of corn, and onions are packed in a pot -- which requires a deposit -- for you to cook at home. 3821B S. George Mason Dr., Falls Church. 379-9444. MC, V for orders over $20. Carryout: $1.75-$5.95. Mon-Fri 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun noon-6 p.m. SUTTON PLACE GOURMET

As a picnic source Sutton Place Gourmet is a treasure trove -- or a Pandora's box, depending on your viewpoint. It has everything: a superior cheese selection, all manner of domestic and imported cold cuts, smoked fish even more diverse, an entire bakery and fresh fruits both familiar and exotic. You can fill out your meal with beer, a large wine selection and even elegant chocolates. And the selection of prepared foods is enormous -- pizzas and quiches (which they will heat if you wish) and more salads than you can imagine. You can buy chicken salad with curry, with fruit, with dan dan noodles or without fruit -- and another kind of chicken salad in the deli department. Pasta is teamed as a salad in a half-dozen variations. The world of vegetable salads encompasses at least three kinds of potato salad, tabouleh, wild rice, blanched vegetables with homemade garlic mayonnaise. Then there are the entrees to reheat at home and the sandwiches that take advantage of the full range of the deli.

While the ingredients of all these prepared foods are excellent, and the cooking seems to have improved this year, it is still shamefully erratic. One day a mosaic of chicken, ham and spinach made a terrific galantine, a quiche more than two inches tall was deliciously packed with vegetables, and chicken salad was chunky and good. The salad combinations are imaginative; barely cooked green beans had been combined delightfully with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and nuts. But two different potato salads were half-raw, seafood salads lacked zest, pasta salads have been pasty, and other salads were too vinegary, overwhelmed by garlic or drowned in mayonnaise. In any case, you have to be prepared to spend a hefty amount at Sutton Place. Vegetable and pasta salads run up to $8 a pound, chicken salad $9 a pound, quiche $3 a piece and that galantine $12 a pound. And don't gather your feast on a tight schedule, as each counter -- meat, cheese, salads, bread -- is likely to require a wait in line. But if you are willing to pay your money and to take your chances, Sutton Place Gourmet comes closest to matching price with quality. Two locations: 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW. 363-5800. 10323 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda. 564-3100. No credit cards. Carryout: $2-$20. District store: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Md. store: Mon-Sat, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun 9 a.m.-7 p.m. SUZANNE'S

Try 50 other chicken salads and meat pies and you, too, will appreciate Suzanne's. This is good cooking. Too many haut carryouts offer food that's clever without being good. Suzanne's doesn't sacrifice taste for originality. That chicken salad may have red pimentos, celeriac, capers and a peppery bite, but its balance is maintained so that those flavors meld rather than fight. And its meat pie -- in my case veal and mushrooms in a paprika cream -- has a flaky crisp crust and an absolutely delicious creamy and meltingly tender filling. On a single evening I found a delightful spicy and tart eggplant salad with olives, and other vegetable salads ranging from carrots and broccoli with cumin to a fragrant creamy zucchini. There were bright, crunchy and lightly oiled green beans with almonds; pasta salad that was better than most; and tender, mushroom- topped salmon fillets that could be served hot or cold. Hot main dishes included rare lamb medallions topped with flavored butter -- not the most successful dish to reheat, but well made; irresistible green noodles with creamed chicken and pine nuts; chicken rolled with ham and cheese; tortellini with sausage that the clerk warned me was dry; and crusty main dishes such as two kinds of torta rustica -- superb savory Italian pies with meats, vegetables and ricotta -- and quiche. Only the white pizza disappointed.

Then there are desserts, a lovely array of chocolate chestnut torte, tangy lemon tart, white chocolate mousse in dark chocolate cups, fruit tarts, creamy layered chocolate or chestnut or hazelnut cakes, and cookies ranging from chocolate chip to madeleines. You could also finish off your meal with exotic fresh fruits -- out-of- season plums or peaches, for instance.

Suzanne's has cheeses, meats, pa te's and a fine variety of fancy packaged foods. It also has a restaurant upstairs in case you'd rather eat in than take out. Most important, though, these days it is cooking what it does well -- and it does a lot well. 1735 Connecticut Ave. NW. 483-4633. Carryout: Items from the shop are available during shop hours (call for days and times); items from the restaurant are available for takeout if ordered by 11 a.m. for small groups or by 6 p.m. the day before for groups of 10 or more. Special catered items are available for takeout with 24 hours' notice. Delivery: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat delivery by special arrangement. No minimum. Fees vary. TAKE ME HOME

It is a nice little homey Georgetown shop with nice people and nice food. Exciting? No. But pretty reliable, certainly varied and with prices that are not outlandish. Take Me Home has some clever ideas, such as whole cooked artichokes with their dressing in a paper cup in the hollowed-out heart. And the roast meats -- lamb stuffed with greens and herbs, veal stuffed with ground meat, for instance -- are delicious. Otherwise, the chicken salads tend to be fruited and thus slightly sweet, and other salads have been slightly too tart or too herbed or too sweet -- just short of memorable. Hot dishes such as mild and soupy lasagna and baked chicken with cabbage are good enough for everyday meals but nothing special. And empanadas are stuffed with imagination -- smoked turkey and cheese, for instance -- but with not enough substance. Best of the choices are desserts -- particularly a crisp and tart apple strudel and a flaky-crusted apple pie. 3212 O St. NW. 298-6818. No credit cards. Carryout: $4-$9 Mon-Sat 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun. TORTILLA FACTORY

Rare is the Mexican restaurant where the spiciest dish is the tamales. At the Tortilla Factory they are packed with pungent shredded meat -- plenty of tang playing against excellent grainy corn- meal wrappers. And they are the best of the dishes I have tried. Otherwise, there has been a range of disappointments. Bland chicken burrito and soggy taco salad with very little meat. Pedestrian tacos with ground meat and chili but not much taste otherwise, and matching enchiladas. Tostadas had spicier meat but were a platter of mostly lettuce. It tastes as if the Tortilla Factory has gone eastern. 648 Elden St. Herndon. 471-1156. AE, C, MC, V. Carryout: $3.65-$7.95. Mon 11:30-a.m.-9 p.m.; Tues, Wed, Thurs 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri, Sat 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Delivery: Same hours as for carryout. $50 min- imum; no fee; 50-mile radius. TRADER VIC'S

Somehow Trader Vic's food seems like party food -- those crunchy Polynesian tidbits and lacquered barbecued meats. Thus it seems particular fun for an impromptu after- work feast. What I discovered is that most of it transported so well that as a picnic it tasted even better than at the restaurant.

It would help to have Trader Vic's menu memorized or on hand when you order, for it is a long one. But I found a patient and helpful woman on the phone who made suggestions as she skimmed the menu, and helped me devise a first-class meal. First I tried two kinds of hors d'oeuvres combinations. From them I concluded that next time I would concentrate on crab rangoon -- crab with cream cheese in light won-ton wrappers -- and jalapen o cheese balls, spareribs and perhaps roast pork or chicken wings. Fried shrimp I'd skip, and regular pork-filled won tons would reach only my second rank. Actually, I might make a meal of hors d'oeuvres, though the ones I carried out were better than those I have encountered at parties at Trader Vic's.

I would have expected the most appropriate main courses to be barbecued meats, and indeed the Indonesian barbecued lamb -- though quite expensive -- was well seasoned, beautifully cooked and so well trimmed that there was no unpleasant taste of cold lamb fat as it cooled. Barbecued chicken was also good, though more ordinary than the other dishes. Shrimp mimosa, in garlic-buttered crumbs, tasted more emphatically greasy when it wasn't piping hot. The surprise, though, was Szechuan beef, which emerged superb from its foil wrap.

Most of Trader Vic's desserts are ice cream concoctions, but you'd do better to end your meal with tropical fruit bought elsewhere. And you might want a few palm trees and sprays of orchids as proper backdrop to some of the most festive carryout food in town. 16th and K streets NW. 347-7100. C. Carryout: $9-$25.75. Daily noon-midnight. VACE

This is a good Italian carryout if you don't consider it a pizza parlor, for Vace's pizza is probably the least respectable of its cooking. Go for the pastas. You can find fresh noodles in three colors and frozen tortellini, capellini or gnocchi for adding your own sauce or theirs (tomato, meat, pesto, walnut or alfredo). Lasagnas are ready to defrost and heat, and manicotti or cannelloni to sauce and heat. Vace has fine imported cheeses and cold cuts and authentic condiments such as salty gnarled olives and pickled vegetables. Its pasta salad is fat, well-stuffed tortellini simply dressed with oil and vinegar and a few hot pepper shards -- it actually tastes Italian. There are also cannoli filled to order, though I wish their ricotta filling were less sweet. Vace is not the intensely savory grocery it once was, but it is still good and still sells true flavors of Italy. 3504 Connecticut Ave. NW. 363-1999. No credit cards. Carryout: $1.60-$9. Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Sun. WASHINGTON PARK GOURMET

It wasn't a good day, said the saleswoman when I last visited Washington Park Gourmet; they usually had more interesting things. On my previous visit, however, the menu was nearly identical; apparently I had hit it wrong twice.

In all, though, the shop is spacious and attractive, with high-quality packaged foods. And the refrigerator sections of house-made foods range from about 10 cold dishes through even more desserts and breakfast pastries. The quality of ingredients is high: freshly cooked white-meat chicken, bright vegetables. But while all the food was pleasant, there were hardly any standouts. A deep-dish vegetable pie was the most interesting to the taste, and its crust was admirably flaky and tender. Lasagna with green noodles was mellow and rich, a top-quality pasta dish. But the huge chunks of chicken in the chicken salad hadn't absorbed much flavor from their spicy red sauce or their curry and raisin dressing or their tarragon mayonnaise. Couscous was mild, a background rather than a focus; dilled potato salad with vinaigrette was sprightlier. It is hard to get excited about tuna salad or hummos in such an elegant context, and the pastries all tasted as if they had settled and turned a bit soggy in the display case. In all, Washington Park Gourmet is a source of rather good food that is welcome in its neighborhood but isn't likely to draw the hungry from farther away. 2331 Calvert St. NW. 462-5566. AE, MC, V. Carryout: $3.50-$13 per pound. Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.