588-5537.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Price Ranger: from $2 to $4.50 for sandwiches to about $8 for entrees.

Atmosphere: cozy, cheerful neighborhood seafood restaurant easily identified by the little tugboat out front.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Credit Cards: None accepted.

Special Facilities: Accessible for wheelchair patrons; booster chairs; children may split meals; within walking distance of the Silver Spring Metro station.

It was the Christmas tree in the aquarium that did it. According to our children, how could you dislike a restaurant that even decks the halls for the tropical fish?

So before we had eaten a morsel, the girls, ages 10 and 13, gave an affirmative vote to the Achapreague, a neighborhood bar and seafood restaurant in Silver Spring.

The place is indeed inviting. In this season, the tiny dining room is festooned with tinsel and Christmas lights that twinkle among the fishnets and plaster lobsters.

The Wachapreague, named for a fishing town on Virginia's Eastern Shore, is an unpretentious paper-placemat type of place where you can come in for a cold beer at the bar or for a plateful of oysters on the half shell. It's clean and the service is friendly and fast.

The menu is unpretentious too, running to standard items like fried shrimp, crab cakes and the like, all served with french fries and cole slaw. If you're looking for sole veronique, the Wachapreague is not for you.

But if you want some of the finest crab imperial in town, it's waiting for you on Bonifant Street. My husband, a Baltimore boy, thinks that a restaurant's reputation hinges on its crab imperial, certainly a biased overstatement. But if this were true, the Wachapreague could count itself among the great seafood establishments.

Their rendering of crab imperial, for $8.95, is outstanding. Backfin crab-meat is doused in a light, creamy sauce and browned slightly. A little less celery seasoning was preferable, but otherwise this was a near perfect dish.

We wished we had been warned about the size of the portions. Our youngest, hardly a picky eater, blanched when her seafood platter, $8, arrived. She had met her match. The mountain of fried shrimp, fish, oysters, crab cakes and scallops could have fed all four of us.

In any case, the seafood platter wouldn't be my first choice. The shrimp and fish were dry, and scallops can rarely withstand a bath in the deep fat fryer without turning into golf balls.

The crab cake was fine, moist and well-seasoned. (Although we didn't try it, we suspect the Wachapreague makes a mean crab soup -- the kitchen seems to know a thing or two about dealing with these creatures.)

Our eldest deviated by having a hamburger, $2.50 and as you might expect, it was big if unexciting. Before this, she had a appetizer of a dozen spiced shrimp $4, nicely cooked with bay leaves, chili peppers and other seasonings, and served ice cold with hot sauce.

The fried oysters, big and tender, were wonderful, and if you order them for dinner, you get 18 (yup, 18) of them for $8.

With all this seafood, nobody gave much thought to the french fries although someone reported that the cole slaw was too sweet, and our 13-year-old's side order of garden salad was just a bowl of iceberg lettuce.

If you aren't in the mood for fish, you can get a steak or chicken, among other things. Sandwiches range from $4.50 for a soft shell crab sandwich to $2 for a fishwich.

The Wachapreague also offers fresh trout, crab or shrimp norfolk and a variety of seafood salads.

French apple pie was the only dessert offered during our visit, and it was clear that most of the restaurant's efforts go into its main dishes.

The tab for this Christmas present to ourselves was $46.28. That included wine, soft drinks, coffee and tip.

If you and yours have failed to get into that elusive state known as the Christmas spirit, try the Wachapreague. Even the gold fish are merry.