Atmosphere: Small, attractive and filled with paintings and art objects from the owner's home town in Italy.

Price range: Soups and appetizers at dinner are $1.50 to $4.60; main dinner courses range from $5 for cannelloni to $10 for giant shrimp in marinara sauce or stuffed veal and chicken scaloppini cooked in champagne; desserts are $1.50.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Special facilities: Accessible by wheelchair.

Reservations: A good idea on weekends.

Credit cards: Accepts major credit cards.

When good friends and neighbors whose child plays with your child and whose cats scrap with your cats decide to pull up roots and relocate in Thailand, the occasion requires a very special dinner out. We went en masse to a new restaurant that opened a few months ago in Bethesda, Positana.

Several neighbors had already been there and returned with good news: The food was delicious, the portions enormous and the service very friendly. Altogether a special, if somewhat expensive, family place to go, they said.

The atmosphere at Positano was just what we wanted that night - casual yet elegant. There were starched white tablecloths, oil paintings on the walls and waiters in tuxedos. The patrons, including ourselves, were dressed casually - ties and jackets for men were not necessary.

Looking back at our dinner for two families, which came to $68.20 including tip, there were many ways we could have kept the price down, ways that wouldn't have compromised our dinner or diminished the occasion. Our family's share, for two adults and two childrn, was $35.

The children ordered antipasto Italiano, $4.50, and mussels cooked in marinara sauce, $3.50. We adults had a carafe of house wine, $4.50, and didn't order a starting course for ourselves. The two appetizers, when they arrived, were so grand and the waiter so accommodating about extra plates - be brought them without being asked - that the food made its way around the table and there was still some left.

Luigi and Angela Trattino, who are the guiding lights of the restaurant as well as Bethesda residents, came by to offer advice about main courses. Luigi Tracttino was a strong advocate of fried smelts, $6. He told us not to order the red snapper cooked in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] sauce and flavored with anchovigs and capers, $7.50, because he didn't like the looks of the snapper when it arrived that afternoon. He had thrown it out, "Any other time it's a very good dish," he said.

He approved of my husband ordering mussels and linguise, $8, and nodded agreement with my decision to have fettuccine cooked with Zucchini, $6. Our friends took the smelts and one order of potato dumpling stuffed with meat and mozzarella, $7.50, a dish that Traettino told us was a family favorite. The three children ordered eggplant parmigiana, $5.50, and cannalloni, $5.

When our main courses arrived, we knew we'd ordered twice the food we could eat. The mussels are served 18 to the portion in a huge frying pan. Under the big black open shells lay linguine in a tomato sauce that was home made down to the chunks of tomato. Not only was there enough for everyone to taste but my husband didn't come close to finishing the course. The mussels were wonderfully fresh and juicy and were a superb main course.

The smelts also arrived in overwhelming numbers, crisply fried and beautifully crunchy. They looked so good that even our children, who generally avoid foods with names like smelts, tried them and liked them.

The family favorite, dumplings, were light and airy but sinfully rich. The same could be said for the fettucine with zucchini. The noodles were home made, light and full of ripples.

The cannelloni and eggplant received high marks from our children. There were so much passing around of food - everyone insisting he had the best dish and everyone else had to try it - that it was hard to remember who had ordered what.

We had planned to leave room for dessert because that used to be Angela Traettino's specialty. The spirit was willing but the stomachs were not - except for our children who insisted they had saved room. They ordered profitterols, $1.50, to share. These were pastries stuffed with lemon creme and topped with chocolate sauce. We concentrated on cappuccino, $1.50, which came hissing and steaming out of the elaborate machine Luigi Traettino mans in the back of the restaurant.

At the end of our meal the Traettinos returned to see how we'd liked everything. Angela Traettino told us that most the dishes were based on recipes from her mother, aunts, cousins and in-laws in Italy. Traettino said his wife was one of the few cooks in Washington who could debone a whole chicken. The dish, which must be ordered three hours in advance at Positano, is served stuffed with sausage, veal and parmean cheese, $7.50 per person.

Although we wall agreed we had ordered too much food and that four or five main courses would have been more than enough for the seven of us, we couldn't decide which dishes we would have been willing to forego. Next time we plan to order less and try some of the entrees such as calamarelli (squid), osso buco (veal shanks) or one of the four different veal scalloppini dishes. We will also pace ourselves for dessert.