A veritable smorgasbord of dining possibilities lured us into the immense underground dining room that is The White House Connection. The selections ranged from the trendy (monk fish steak) and the exotic (Oriental salad) to the upscale (filet mignon with peppercorn sauce) and healthful (fresh fruit plate with cottage cheese or fresh sorbet).

But after three meals and as many disappointments, we've reached the conclusion that you shouldn't judge a restaurant by its menu -- or, for that matter, by the crowds of patrons that frequent the place day after day.

It's not that the restaurant is without merit. It regularly features specials of seasonal products, be they entrees of fish or side orders of vegetables and fruit.

But because the restaurant serves only lunch, we're less inclined to overlook the flaws. One of these can be harried or inefficient service.

Soups are advertised as homemade, but that isn't necessarily a recommendation, unless the lemon chicken soup is available. Generous with bits of chicken and cooked rice, it's balanced and filling. Far less appealing were a blandish split pea soup, a weak french onion soup and a special of cream of broccoli.

There are at least a dozen satisfactory burger and sandwich offerings, including reubens, monte cristos and a host of deli selections. Better, but not much, was a cheeseburger, topped with a mess of cheese pieces. A side of fast-food tasting french fries was little support.

The eatery selects as its namesake special, one of its poorest offerings, a lackluster sandwich of tenderloin steak on french bread. It has all the appeal of a vending machine selection.

The complete lunch (a daily special of soup or salad, entree, pastry and beverage) raises expectations at $9.95. Although the entree's a disappointment, you're likely to at least begin and end the meal on good notes.

One plays the diner's version of Russian roulette with each visit, never knowing what to expect. Sometimes the food looks woefully fatigued, as in an appetizer of dry smoked salmon served with limp toast points or an entree of boneless trout, which was dark and greasy. A mound of decent pasta is merely drizzled with a flat beef sauce. Yet these same dishes might be bolstered by fresh and sprightly garnishes and vegetables, sometimes preceded by a perfectly respectable salad or hors d'oeuvre.

With few exceptions, desserts aren't a gamble here -- indeed, they may be the best reason for visiting the restaurant. Cakes are moist and those with alcohol are richly flavored. Tarts showcase fresh fruits atop flaky crusts, and for light eaters, there are goblets of fresh berries.