Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Closed Mondays.

Atmosphere: Dark, old-time Italian restaurant.

Price Range: Reasonable: $2.50 for spaghetti to $8 for lobster.

Special Facilities: Easy wheelchair acess. High chairs; no booster chairs. Parking lot.

Credit Cards: Diners, Carte Blanche, Visa and American Express.

Reservations: Not taken.

There it is all by itself on the corner, a testimony to survival: A. V.'s

To some Washingtonians, it is a landmark more exciting than many monuments.

To others, it is a restaurant of variety with reasonable prices.

To my children this evening, it is more a question of uncertainty. Why are we here? Why is the lady running around? Why is it so dark? Why don't they care we have no match to light the candle?

I remembered other meals here and assured them the food would be good and we'd have a fun time. I hoped I was right.

A.V.'s a curiosity with its overhead light fixtures that are without bulbs, its walls almost bare of deocration and its occasional handing plastic fruit. It is from another era, a grotto-like atmosphere in a long room with wine-bottled candles that may get lit.

There is a lot happening here for a child: A busboy running around in an apron that would make any self-respecting mother scream, a waitress explaining white wine is available by the bottle and then filling the order with a carafe of red or a lady running out of the kitchen yelling, "Who's got the soup?"

Later, there is the argument at another table about what a customer ordered and what the waitress brought. The waitress won.

For action, A.V.'s is not lacking. Life is serious here. You play by the rules or you don't eat. You order when you've decided your complete meal and the waitress is willing to listen. Food comes in a mad frenzy.

We started with the white pizza appetizer. It is a fine as ever: Plain, thick dough doused with olive oil, fresh garlic and oregano -- all in abundant supply.

Who would think a 5-year-old who is not fond of spices would love it? She did but was happy she had a full root beer.

We ordered our favorite Italian soup, tortellini ($1.50), and were sorely disappointed. Instead of a light noodle accompanying a fine a broth, we received a boiled greasy film flowing over cooked, hard pieces of pasta.

We ordered a cold antipasto to share. Mysteriously, it took longer to prepare than any other course. It was mainly a salad of iceberg lettuce with one olive, one tomato, one thin slice of salmai and 2 very hard chunks of provolone. Here, hardly, is a classical treat of tastes.

Now I know why the waitress would only take our full order -- if we had just ordered our appetizers, we would have left at this point. We were still confident, however.

Our son's spaghetti arrived with one gigantic, soggy meatball atop a mountain of thick, overcooked spaghetti. The spicy tomato sauce was well-seasoned but too plentiful for a child.

Our daughter, who loves light and creamy cannelloni as it comes fresh from a pasta machine, was disappointed with her cannelloni alla fiorentina. Here was overcooked dough filled with rubbery spinach and bread stuffing covered with the spicy spaghetti sauce.

My concern for the children's meals quickly evaporated as my husband's braciola bargain at $3.50 and my scaloppina a la marsala 4.50) arrived. The smell of olive oil invaded the table. It was reminiscent of the soup. No portion could be tasted separate from the sauce. Even the mushrooms and green peppers were overcooked. "Prepared to order" was becoming difficult to swallow.

We decided we needed dessert. Cheese and fruit were listed, but we selected spumoni and tortoni, a wise prepackaged choice.

It is a shame to say time marches on and what A.V. Ristorante Italiano once offered the dollar value is no longer there. Maybe one should just order the white pizza.