Atmosphere: Dashing, but not intimidating.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Price Range: $4.75 to $15, with most pasta dishes between $5 and $6.

Reservations: A good idea on weekends.

Credit Cards: All major.

Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair; free parking behind the restaurant; booster chairs; children's menu.

Alfio's has this whole Italian restaurant thing down to a formula, and a very successful one at that. You'll get crowd-pleasing veal and pasta dishes served by black-jacketed waiters with romantic foreign accents. And they won't introduce themselves by their first names or inquire about your karma, either.

You'll also get a comfortable taste of Italy without having to deal in lira or the Italian language, or food that is actually so Italian it's foreign.

Our family is accustomed to slinking in and out the back door of Alfio's in our Saturday clothes, to pick up pizza -- and a wonderful, gooey, spicy concoction Alfio's pizza is.

But this is a more formal occasion we're talking about, a sit-down dinner for a family of four celebrating no particular event, but celebrating nevertheless.

We started with a plate of assorted salami, which were interesting but maybe a little tired, especially around the edges of the mortadella.

A bowl of minestrone was a bit of a letdown too, week-willed as it was. It seems minestrone should have more salt or better broth -- or something -- than Alfio's version had.

We had no complaints about the main courses, however, our biggest problem with them being how to choose one.

Our son stuck to the standard spaghetti with meat sauce, faced with a mind-dazzling array of menu possibilities, from squid to scaloppine. I thought the spaghetti was a little overcooked, but he had no complaints, and the tomato-meat sauce had the full flavor that comes from slow simmering.

Two of us tried veal dishes, since the notation on the menu enticed us with the promise of "plume de veau," meaning it would be light and tender.

The sauces for the two dishes, saltimboucca alla romana and scallopine al marsala, bore striking resembalance to one another. Both were made from a thickened meat stock with tomatoes and wine for flavor. The saltimbocca (there's no need to panic; all this Italian is nicely translated for you on the menu) includes a thin layer of prosciutto ham. At $9.75 for the saltimbocca and $9.25 for the veal al marsala, these are not exactly bargains, but then have you tried to buy veal lately in the supermarket?"

Both came with bonus side dishes of spaghetti with tomato sauce, as if one needed it after the veal.

Our daughter went directly to the part of the menu that said "whipping cream." This time the whipping cream involved little pasta envelopes called tortellini, butter and Parmesan cheese.

Not a light dish, but then 13-year-olds can get away with this kind of abandon. The tortellini, says the menu, are filled with beef, chicken and spices. Of course, with butter, cream and Parmesan to keep them company, they could be filled with old tires and who would care?

We appreciated the dressing on the salads that came with our meals. It was nicely flavored -- just a little peppery -- and was accompanied by little black olives that reminded us of the Mediteranean. The lettuce was mostly of the inimitably American iceberg type.

Before we get to dessert, it should be said that Alfio's menu is so complete that you can get anything from our son's spaghetti for $4.75 to lobster fra diavolo for almost three times that, with a lot in between. There's even a short kids' menu.

Late though the hour, we couldn't resist a tiny cup of espresso to go with our dessert, and it was real espresso, too.

For dessert we sampled the chocolate mousse -- a light little concoction made mostly of whipped cream and chocolate, it seemed -- but who's complaining? -- and the spumoni, which was spumoni.

Very nice, this Alfio's, for a night when you're celebrating a birthday, or a promotion, or the fact that it's Tuesday.