Hours: Open daily. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dinner from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Atmosphere: Bayside wonder.

Price range: Dinner entrees from $9.25 to $15.75. Reduced children's prices.

Reservations: No.

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

Special features: Ramped entrance to wheelchair lift that opens inside restaurant. Otherwise, a flight up. Highchairs and booster seats. Parking lot. Piano entertainment. Attire: beach presentable.

At the beach we are always on the lookout for someplace new to eat for those evenings when we want more than boardwalk fries, pizza or steamed seafood. Locating a restaurant with a diverse menu for a special family dinner outing proves a yearly challenge.

Timing is, of course, a problem. If you eat late, the no-reservation policy of many restaurants can make the wait unbearable for hungry children. Finding a restaurant that is more than just an extension of its bar can be another hurdle. And we did not want another "home-cooked" family-style meal.

As we drove along, pausing and inspecting, we finally came upon a sight more fanciful than real. At the end of a bumpy road off Coastal Highway, sitting right on the bay, was a large octagonal replica of a lighthouse.

The Wild Goose Chase's exterior features a wraparound deck; inside are a two-level dining area, a separate bar and a deck that affords a panoramic waterside view. A piano player entertains on the first floor, lighthouse photographs decorate the walls, and each table comes with cloth placemats and napkins.

Beach prices have not slowed down and the Wild Goose Chase is no exception. Restaurants recognize a hungry, sunburned captive audience that eventually needs a night on the town. The Wild Goose Chase responds with a variety of gourmet choices.

The many appetizers and more limited selection of entrees provide diners with a number of possibilities. Our major complaint is that a dinner salad should be included with all entrees rather than costing an extra $1.35.

For the children, four dinners are available with reduced prices and portions: prime rib, crab cakes, tenderloin slices or swordfish. Or children can select appetizers and create their own meals.

Many of the appetizers sound like crowd pleasers: for instance, spiced steamed shrimp or clams ($4.95 each). For our daughter, just sitting at a table seemed difficult because of her tired sunburned body. She would have preferred dry toast and a soft bed, but somewhere in the middle of an order of fried zucchini ($2.50) she rallied.

The zucchini slices had a surprise topping of parmesan that turned off our 11-year-old son, a noncheese-eating vegetable lover. He concentrated instead on the romaine and iceberg salad with its pepper, onion and tomato slices.

The French onion soup ($2.25) was a bowl of scant broth under a heavy bread and cheese coating. A little more soup and a little less topping would have improved it.

The prime rib ($8 for children, $15.75 for adults) proved a landlubber's delight. The child's slice was a perfect medium-rare: a respectable, lightly seasoned slice.

All entrees are served with baked potatoes, the day's vegetable (which that night was a family-style bowl of fresh but overly salted green beans), a bowl of whipped butter, sourdough rolls and sculpted sour cream cups. Esthetics play a major role in the total production, as monitored by the attentive staff.

Of the other entrees, nothing was really wrong with the chicken and veal Marsala with mushroom slices ($10.95), but it failed to create a lasting impression. If anything, its wine sauce was too strong and the meats lost all individuality.

My husband chose the crab cakes ($11.95) almost by default. He coveted swordfish but it was unavailable. Yet the crab cakes approached perfection, demonstrating an expertise lost in many other dishes. They were barely breaded mounds of crabmeat quickly saute'ed. No filler, pepper overkill or shell bits--just wonderful purity. And there was enough to share.

The good fortune extended to dessert. A family with a genetic sweet tooth cannot ignore a slice of Mississippi mud pie ($2.50). It takes a real diplomat to divide bites, though. Dividing a creation of mocha ice cream atop a chocolate graham cracker crust with a swirl of pure chocolate requires immeasurable restraint. Each bite is addictive.

We felt that our trip to this magnificent structure with its surprise dinner choices was not a wild goose chase but a pleasurable outing, even if dinner carried Washington prices.