It all started several years ago at a bakery in Rockville where the search was on for good, authentic french bread. Then, on May 5, 1972, voila! The perfect loaf was brought forth from the oven, and Vie de France was on its way.

By now, in case you hadn't noticed, Vie de France croissants and loaves, wrapped in red, white and blue paper, are sold at supermarkets and mom-and-pop groceries all over the area. They are also sold at the bakery's latest venture, the Vie de France Cafe at 19th and K streets NW.

The cafe is definitely a bright spot in this otherwise staid business section. It does the working folk in the area a favor by serving not only lunch and dinner, but a continental breakfast, too. All meals, of course, feature Vie de France baked goods.

Located on the second floor gallery of a new office building, the Vie de France Cafe has glass walls that overlook K Street and the building's large foyer. This sweeping view gives the dining room a cavernous look at first, but the use of cordoned-off eating areas brings it back to human proportions.

The cafe managed to avoid succumbing entirely to the contemporary natural wood and earthy colors so favored-and overworked-by designers these days. It has added some pleasant touches such as copies of country chairs with rush seats, displays of old china, dainty African violets on the tables and ceramic tiled walls.

Our family made its first foray to the Vie de France Cafe on a Saturday night about 6:30. Parking was no problem because K Street was as quiet as a church on Monday.

The girls, ages 9 and 12, zeroed in on the display cases of baguettes, rolls and pastries that face the entrance to the cafe, and had determined their dessert choices before we reached our table.

Two baskets of french bread were placed on table as we sat down.

I don't think it was empty more than 30 seconds during our entire stay.

Although several families were in the cafe, the Vie de France may not be the best choice for very young children unless you plan to stoke them with bread or unless they have developed an early fondness for wine and shallots.

The dinner menu offers only five or six entrees, most of which are served with sauces and seasonings unlikely to appeal to the pre-school set. Since our visit, we have learned that the cafe will now feature sandwiches at dinner every night of the week, but these not in the peanut butter and jelly category.

Children's portions are not offered, but the management is quite obliging about meal splitting. In fact, they let our youngest forgo an entree in favor of a bowl of onion soup and a small garden salad. The soup, $1.75, was ample for her, and winding the strands of gooey guyere cheese around her spoon occupied her while the rest of us partook.

My husband ordered lobster bisque, a puree that was underseasoned and gave only the faintest clue that the base was lobster. Things looked up.

Vie de France Cafe

1990 K St. NW. 0055.

Price range: Dinner entrees from $7 to $10; sand wiches, from $2.50 to $3.50, available at lunch and dinner.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for continental breakfast; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner, Monday through Friday. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., brunch, and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner on Saturday. Closed Sundays.

Atmosphere: Informal. Handsome, airy dining room featuring large bakery display cases.

Credit cards: American Express, Master Charge, VISA.

Reservations: Not accepted for lunch.

Special facilities: Accessible for patrons in wheelchairs who can use an elevator to the second floor; on-street parking and commercial parking lots; children may split meals.

however, when his entree came. A firm flounder filet, $7.95, was served on a bed of spinch with scallops and a delicate white wine sauce.

Our eldest daughter played it safe with london broil, $7.25. It was cooked to order, and the red wine and mushroom sauce was an improvement over the corn-starchy gravy frequently dumped on London broil at other establishments.

I had worked myself up for the chicken breast with roasted shallots for $6.95, but our waiter trotted out from the kitchen with the bad news-no chicken tonight.

I settled for medallions of veal, $6.95, a generous portion of tender veal slices, submerged, unfortunately, in a gluey sauce. I liked the accompanying pureed water cress which had a clean, fresh taste.

While we waited for our pre-picked assortment of desserts, napoleons and fruit tarts, we read the mini-history, left on each table, that told us of Vie de France's early search for le pain parfait back in its Rockville days.

The flyer also listed the cafe's sandwiches, from $2.50 to $3.50, which had French-type and largely self-explanatory names like La Nicoise and Le Club. These constructions are all served on, you guessed it, french bread and croissants.

Despite some flaws in the food, we thought the Vie de France Cafe was attractive and friendly. Our bill came to $40.65 for everything including wine, a reasonable tab for a downtown restaurant. However, in a recent phone call to the cafe, we learned that entree prices, will go up a dollar or two in the next few weeks.