Atmosphere: Dark, grotto-like

Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.; Saturday 5 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Price range: From $3 for a plain cheese pizza to $11.95 for a New York sirloin with spaghetti. Average entree $6.

Reservations: For parties of 8 or more.

Credit cards: American Express; Carte Blanche, Diners, MasterCard, VISA.

Special facilities: Close tables present problems for wheelchairs. No highchairs or booster seats. Carry-out. On-street parking for the lucky. Nearby parking lots.

The long arm of inflation has affected even Nino's, the stalwart of late-night dining. This unpretentious restaurant, whose decor compromises Chianti bottles hung everywhere, needs to pay more attention to its food.

Gone are the large portions and fabulous prices. Everything is served a la carte, with the small salad listed at $2.45. The effects of inflation can best be seen in the overwhelming increase in the price of garlic bread. Three thin slices of this wonderful bread is $1.10.

Antipasto and minestrone soup are the only appetizers. The antipasto ($2.95) is more a bloc of iceberg lettuce doused with dressing and decorated with miniscule cubes of cheese and beets.

The bowl of minestrone ($1.50) is a light, thinly seasoned broth filled with an overabundance of beans and few other vegetables.

The one homemade pasta is ravioli filled with either cheese or meat for $6.25. There was a pasty quality to the meat filling, although the pasta itself was good.

The spaghetti had the same light touch we remembered, indicating that pastas are carefully lifted from the pot when they are just perfect.

Our 9-year-old had no difficulty with his portion of spaghetti. Yet, both children recognized a humorous side to all the dishes. They were drowned with the same boring tomato sauce. It it had been light and zesty; rather than a paste, such a mountainous portion of sauce might have been almost acceptable.

Some items under the sauce were worth the effort of scraping it off.

My eggplant parmigiano ($5.95) had a sparse layer of melted mozzarella over still crisp eggplant slices that had been lightly breaded and delicately seasoned.

The major disappointment of the evening was pizza. Our youngest ordered a plain pizza with extra cheese and was content with the thick cheese topping. The sauce, although different from that on the other three entrees, totally covered the overcooked, bland crust.

Our spirits needed lifting, and we wanted to leave with a sweet taste in our mouths rather than that of the burdensome tomato sauce. All desserts are $1.75 and none is made on the premises. The cannoli is no longer even freshly filled.

The rum cake is a high Napoleon with a thin, flaky crust and an almost indistinguishable rum taste. The cheesecake is a large portion of plain cheesecake that is acceptable.

Unfortunately, Nino's has suffered with the times. Our sampling for four was $42.55 with tax and tip. Maybe the restaurant is best viewed as a refuge for persons with late-night hungries, when any item of food is preferable to starvation.