When my friendly auto mechanic pulls me aside to tell the joke about the disgruntled diner who complains to the waiter about finding snails with his escargots, I know that America's obsession with food is alive and well.

One can also recognize that the desire for new restaurants is also thriving on the local scene when a difficult location continues to surface with new restaurant names and offerings rather than becoming a 7-Eleven.The snails I found with my escargot were, unfortunately, no laughing matter. But the stylish art deco interior of Roman's, open about two months on Post Office Place in space first inhabited by the Metro Cafe and later Viva La Pasta, buoyed our spirits through a somewhat ordinary dinner. While limited access to parking could be one of the site's problems, the location has enduring qualities.

Our disappointing weekend experience with Roman's cuisine was somewhat surprising, considering that the owner is related to the family that has successfully operated La Fleur de Lys for many years. While our novice waiter did admit that Roman was away for the evening, someone in the kitchen could not prepare escargot. The half dozen snails ($5.50) came to our table unpleasantly undercooked. When offered a substitute appetizer, we were later told that because there was only one chef, he couldn't keep up with the other orders. We accepted several complimentary desserts to make up for the lapse.

The high spot of the dinner was the freshly baked loaves of French bread, served warm at the table. The other entrees we sampled were pricey and average. The 16-ounce T-bone ($15.95) was undercooked and, while tender in spots, was unduly stringy. The rib combination, ordinarily $14.95, was on special, priced at $11.95. While the three barbecue beef ribs were tender, the slab of baby back ribs was chewy and dry. The three honey pork ribs were adequate: The same sweet seasoning was evident with all the ribs.

The clear favorite was the chicken tetrazzini ($9.50). While the parmesan cream sauce was overpowered by the lightly cooked mushrooms, the homemade linguini was perfectly al dente. A barbecued hamburger ($5.95) was clearly overpriced for the size and quality. For that price, the handful of potato chips seemed especially inadequate.

The baked potato and mustard vinaigrette dressing on the house salad were well-prepared; however, the coleslaw that was served with both the steak (for the price a green salad would have been more acceptable) and the ribs had a watery dressing and was faintly discolored as if it had been sliced earlier in the day before being blended with the dressing.

Other entrees on Roman's dinner menu focus on grilled specials and pasta entrees as well as several veal dishes. Dinner prices range from $9.50 for the pasta selections, which include Alfredo, pesto, manicotti and canneloni, to grilled ribs, steak and seafood dinners and combinations for around $15. Barbecued Cornish hen, grilled chicken pesto and chicken cordon bleu as well as coho salmon, grilled halibut and barbecue shrimp are also offered, from $9.95 to $14.50.

If Roman's is going to outlast the former restaurant tenants of the colorful location in the restored Oddfellow's Building, it better attend to some of the basics.

Rating: * *

Roman's, 39 Post Office Place, 355-8788. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Dinner served Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m.; until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card.