Open Sunday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Reservations.Prices: At lunch pastas average $3.50, main courses $4. At dinner pastas $4.95, main courses $6 to $7. Champagne Sunday brunch $7.

If you can't get home for the holidays, Cafe Pinocchio is a good substitute. Whatever its flaws-and I'll get to them later-Cafe Pinocchio clucks over you like a mother hen, makes you feels welcome and cared for. It is one of those rare restaurants that recognizes that the diner is the reason for its existence, and seems grateful for the patronage. The staff is determined that each diner have a good time, and appears to be successful at that.

The kitchen is less successful. You can start off optimistically enough, especially at lunch, when a hot antipasto is offered as a light lunch for $3.50. Shrimp are gently cooked in garlic butter; snails are heated to plumpness in mushroom caps, and clams are chopped and mixed with herbed crumbs, then stuffed into shells and topped with bacon. It's a nice sampling, and sometimes you can persuade the kitchen to produce it as an appetizer at dinner.

the pasta list is the standard mix of cannelloni, manicotti, lasagne, fettucine all'Alfredo and spaghetti with meat or clam sauces. The products, too, are standard. Cannelloni and manicotti are tender wrappers, thicker than they ideally should be, but light noodles nevertheless. Their stuffings, however, want flair. The shredded meat in the cannelloni lacks flavor, and the ricotta in the manicotti falls flat. The cannelloni's cream sauce is thick and rich but laced with too much nutmeg; the tomato sauce on the manicotti almost pleases, failing only in its excessive acidity.

Similar problems characterize the main courses: the dishes almost succeed. Veal, of course, is the mainstay of contemporary Italian menus. The veal at Cafe Pinocchio, dark and grainy, is not prime quality, but at $6.50 one no longer can expect Plume de Veau. It is, however, carefully cooked and teamed with the likes of fresh mushrooms. Chicken breast is a specialty, and its pale, subtle meat succeeds better than the veal with stuffings and toppings of spinach, ham or mozzarellla. Besides chicken and veal, the menu lists stuffed pork, sauteed shrimp and scallops, mussels, sausage, and eggplant parmigiana, all of them from $5.95 to $6.95 at dinner.

Cafe Pinocchio is strongly committed to Sunday brunch; you are unlikely to get through any meal there without the staff lovingly describing the champagne brunch. Indeed, it is a good buy at $6.95, in terms of quantity of food and service. First, you are poured champagne with a whole mandarin orange floating in it. You help youself to a buffet of hot hors d'oeuvres: those garlicky stuffed clams, chicken livers wrapped in disconcertingly limp bacon, tiny leaden envelopes introduced as egg rolls, meatballs in tomato sauce.Then, with more champagne, you have a choice of an asparagus, ham and cheese omelet, manicotti, cold stone crab claws, eggs benedict or chicken sorrentina with ham, fresh tomato and cheese. Opt for the chicken, though its sauce is, as all the sauces seem to be, starchy and indifferently seasoned.The eggs benedict are apt to have their hollandaise cooked into scrambled eggs.

The recurrent message is that the kitchen is not as well conducted as the dining room. Even the salad is little except coarsely chopped iceberg lettuce with a few chick peas and an acrid Italianesque dressing. Cappuccino, highly touted on the menu, is a weak brew under creditable whipped cream.

Dessert is another matter. Cannoli are filled to order, so their thin, light shells remain crisp.Cheesecake is purchased elsewhere, but it is excellent-creamy and studded with cherries.