Atmosphere: Comfortable but ordinary.

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.

Price range: Entrees $4.95 to $12.95.

Special facilities: Accessible to the handicapped; highchairs, boosters and plenty of free parking.

Reservations: None accepted, but there is "preferred seating."

Credit cards: All major ones accepted; no personal checks.

Valle's Steak House (pronounced valeez) in Rockville is one of the newest links in a 28-restaurant chain and sits on one acre just off the Shady Grove Road exit of Route 270. A mammoth, white-and-orange building afloat in a sea of parking spaces, Valle's is to lobsters, steak and crabmeat what McDonald's is to hamburgers, French fries and shakes - with Muzak, laminated wood paneling and wall-to-wall carpeting.

What led us to Valle's was the search for a suitable place for our family to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. We originally had planned on some fancy fare in Georgetown, but decided Valle's would be more accessible and appropriate for our families, which include seven adults and three children ages 9, 7 and 20 months. Several family members had eaten at Valle's before and pronounced the lobster newburg, steak with stuffed shrimp and pork chops delicious.

We were warned to arrive early since the previous Saturday at 6 p.m. some family members had a wait of more than an hour for a table and even the "Saloon," a large bar with lots of tables (also a color TV and juke box), was packed. We were not aware that Valle's has a quasi-reservation system called "preferred seating," which allows you to call ahead and be placed on a list, cutting your waiting time in half. We arrived at 4 p.m. on a Sunday; the restaurant was nearly empty and we were seated immediately.

The hostess led us to a large table in front of a picture window. However, despite its size, the table eventually proved much too small to handle all the various side orders, entrees and beverages for our party of ten. Although we had two very attentive and efficient waitresses, there just never seemed to be enough room for everything.

I began with a glass of domestic chablis, 95 cents, and my husband with a Bloody Mary, $1.95, both good. Valle's serves wine by the half and full bottle, beer, cocktails, mixed drinks and champagne. Dinners are accompanied by a delicious tossed salad, all you can eat; rolls that are backed on the premises but which unfortunately were not warmed, and a baked potato for French fries. I ordered the steak shishkebob and lobster, $10.95. The steak, placed between green peppers and onions, was very good and was medium rare as I had ordered it and the lobster was fine. Unfortunately, since I had devoured my salad, I was not able to finish the steak but my husband, who had predicted this outcome, was more than willing to help out.He ordered the stuffed lobster, $8.95, which was disappointing since the stuffing, as is often the case, was mostly bread and not much crabmeat. His bowl of clam chowder appetizer, at $1.95, was very good, hot and full of clams. The entree that received the best review was the broiled New England scallops, $6.75.

Valle's, which originated in New England, imports its lobsters from Maine and they are all "approximately one pound," according to the manager. Ninety percent of the seafood is caught in North Atlantic waters and is cooked New England style. A single baked stuffed or boiled lobster is $8.95 and on Wednesdays and Fridays, $7.95.

Our 20-month-old son was given a bowl of goldfish crackers and saltines for an appetizer/appeaser, which he shoved down in no time and demanded a refill by banging his spoon on the metal highchair tray. I didn't catch any winces from nearby diners and everyone was tolerant of his squeals and spills. Valle's supplies highchairs and boosters, special pre-dinner snacks, napkin bibs and puzzles on the menus. Our son also enjoyed his grilled hamburger steak and peas ($1.65) ordered from the children's menu.

No one in our party ordered desert since there was a birthday cake waiting for us at home. Desserts are made on the premises.

To finish off the meal I ordered an Irish coffee, $1.95, which was excellent, warm and strong, but not overpowering.

The total bill for our three-member family was $29.24 and for the entire table of 10 including all drinks and side orders but excluding the tips, $94.