Open Monday through Thursday for lunch, 11:30 to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner, 6 to 11 p.m. Dinner on Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Closed for Saturday lunch and all day Sunday. Most major credit cards. Accessible to the handicapped.

At the entrance to Rudy's Restaurant, next to enlarged copies to several favorable reviews that have been written about the place over the years, is a sign: "McLean's only four star restaurant."

The statement is a bit jarring to newcomers to Rudy's, tucked off to one side of the McLean Shopping Center in one of those pedestrian strings of stores in suburbia that usually have a supermarket and a dry cleaners. But there is nothing pedestrian about Rudy's; it's like finding a pearl in the rough, ugly shell of an oyster.

Inside, the decor is French expensive with a touch of the Arabian nights. The tables are fine-linened and the waiters properly black-tied, but there the French influence stops. From the ceiling hang cascades of cloth and gold lanterns like some tent of a nomad prince.

The cuisine, predominantly Middle Eastern, has the subtlety and surprise of meals well thought out and carefully prepared under the demanding scrutiny of its owner, Rudy Kavulakian.

Kavulakian started his restaurant several years ago as a lunch counter. We first visited it a few years later when the place was plainer and Rudy came out of the kitchen in his shirtsleeves to greet favorite patrons.

I was expecting that setting when I revisited Rudy's recently with my two-year-old son in tow. Despite the elegant trappings, I was relieved to find that Rudy's is still a casual family place. My son was treated with the greatest deference, even when he demanded a coke instead of the Shirley Temple the waiter brought him. Out of the waiters even brought him a miniature bull to play with during the wait for our dinner.

A note here about Rudy's is necessary. The service is attentive, but preparation does take a while, perhaps too long for small children. In addition, the food is not cheap. My bill for the two of us was $21.13 with tip. I found the food good enough to skip one other planned dinner out and put it toward the cost of an evening at Rudy's.

On the night we visited we had hommus tahini ($2.95), a dip for Syrian bread made out of crushed sesame seed, garlic, lemon, paprika and olive oil, which was outstanding. Next followed the salad of in-season watercress with a delicate dressing of feta cheese, lemon, cream, oil and vinegar. But the main course, one of the daily specials, was more than I had hoped for: roast loin of veal marinated with Middle Eastern spices and served with a Marsala wine sauce. The veal melted in your mouth. Accompanying it were asparagus spears and rice pilaf with pignoli nuts, a flavorful mixture of white and wild rice, raisins and butter. Topping the meal was a piece of baklava ($1.75), an incredibly light and sweet pastry, and coffee, very good.

Our bill also included a side order of rice for my son and a glass of white wine for me.

The menu includes a wide range of entrees from shishkebab to octupus, ranging in price from $7.95 to $10.95.