We did not go to Valle's with a positive attitude. Oversized restaurants that are part of a chain are not our personal favorites. Our experience has been that they reduce food to a lowest common denominator blandness.
But Valle's recent ads were to intruguing to let personal predjudice stand in the way: Lobster dinner, $7.95.
Valle's calls itself the original downeast family resturant. The menu is geared to the simple tastes of faimily living: steaks, chops, seafood platters. The restaurant is busiest at popular family dinner hours such as Sunday afternoons and evenings.
We put Valle's to the test on one of its most crowded Sunday's: Father's Day. We were two families -- a party of eight -- and that's not an easy number to handle at the height of the dinner rush hour.
I called ahead for reservations early on Sunday and was told -- quite polietly -- that Valle's couldn't take reservations on Father's Day, but would give us "preferential seating." We wouldn't be guaranteed a table for eight at 7 p.m. but we would get preferance over others who "walked in off the street." When we arrived, several groups of people were lined up waiting for tables. We were told our table would be ready in two minutes. It was.
Our table was in the Rockville room, a cavernous dining room with an unremarable decor. Its single landmark was a long salad bar. Seated right next to it, we watched others heap platters and march off with sprightly salads of lettuce, fresh broccoli, raw cauliflower, kidney beans and alfalfa sprouts topped with thick, rich dressings. Our mouths watered. [There is no salad bar the the Springfield Valled's.]
Unfortunately, the $7.95 lobster dinner included lobster (boiled or baked), cole slaw and potato -- no mention of the salad bar. One of our menus had a handwritten note: $1 extra for tossed salad or salad bar.
In addition to the lobster special, Valle's had a "lumberjack" prime rib special: $7.95 for roast beef, potato, tossed salad and rolls.
A seperate sheet noted Valle's "Sunday family special complete dinner." At $6.95 it offered a choice of one of four appetizers (soups and juice,) stuffed capon or crab cakes, a beveraged and dessert (ice cream). For children under 12, the price of the three specials was $1.95. (There was also a special children's menu available on request.)
Another sheet listed chef's suggestions -- steaks, shish kebabs, crab legs, lamb chops, fisherman's platters, roast beef, filet of sole. They ranged in price from $5.85 (meat loaf) to $12.95 (steak and lobster combination); most dishes were $7.95 and $8.(5. All included the salad bar.
We ordered several lobster specials (with salad bar), some prime rib specials and the fisherman's platter. Then we held our breath: The prices were right, but, frankly, we weren't expecting much.
The rolls were the first suprise. Their, big bland and starchy apperance was decieving. Firm in texture and served warm, they had a very satisfying flavor. The salad bar was as good as it looked, although the bar kept running low on some ingreidents.
About the main courses, we had few complaints. The lobsters were of a decent size, juciy and tender. We thought the boiled lobster came off better then the baked, breadcrumb-stuffed version.
The prime rib was a thick slab of tender meat well trimmed of fat.
Deep-fried clams, scallops, shrimp and filet of scrod were heaped on the fisherman's platter ($8.95). It was a generous portion, but you have to love fried foods to enjoy it.
The service was friendly and earnest but not terribly professional. The prime ribs arrived five minutes before the lobsters were served; the fisherman's platter came 10 minutes after that. Our baked potatoes arrived after we had finished the lobsters and prime ribs.
Our waiter was trying so hard and showering us with so much attention -- refilling water glasses and butter bowls, clearing dishes -- that we didn't mind. Although the food arrived at staggered intervals, we didn't feel we were being ignored.
When he brought our check, out waiter confessed he had just graduated from busboy. "This is my first night," he told us with pride.
That check for out family of four, totaled $41.90 including tax and $4.50 for cocktails.
Hours: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 a.m.; weekends until midnight. Atmosphere: Big and bland Price range: $5.85 to $12.95; children's dinners from $1.95. Reservations: Yes. Credit Cards: All major. Special features: parking lot; accessible to the handicapped; booster seats and high chairs available; children's menus; luncheon specials.