Atmosphere: Spacious and pleasant.

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Price range: $4.95 to $8.95; house dinner, $8.25 per person.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

Reservations: Available.

Special facilities: Accessible to the handicapped; shopping center parking lot; booster seats and highchairs.

It's a family ritual: every few Sundays we have dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Chinese restaurants are so easy on the ordering--everyone has a slew of favorite dishes to try.

And fast: If the children haven't finished their homework or if we want to be back in time for Masterpiece Theatre, Chinese food provides the quick fix.

And relatively inexpensive: If we want to keep the tab down, we order very carefully (three dishes for four people, no soup), and feed our family of four for less than $20. Even when we're not so careful, Chinese food is rarely an extravaganza. The bill creeps up to the $30 to $35 range, but rarely higher.

A recent dinner at the new Golden China Restaurant on Rockville Pike was one of the latter instances. Two families (three teen-agers) found it hard to avoid a bill that kept creeping higher, and the vying family preferences brought chaos to the ordering process.

We ended up with a meal that wasn't as well-balanced in terms of taste contrasts as it could have been, but which filled us up and gave us a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of Golden China's kitchen.

Golden China, located in the shadow of a huge Giant food store on Rockville Pike, is a large, spacious restaurant with lovely wooden arches and hanging plants dividing the space.

We started off by sharing one combination appetizer platter ($6.75) which offered egg roll, beef sate', spareribs, shrimp toast and chicken wings. The consensus was that the egg roll was too soft inside, too bland outside; the shrimp toast a fragrant delicacy; the spare ribs very respectable. The beef sate' drew mixed reviews--some of us found it too strong and chewy while others enjoyed it.

We went on to share six main courses. A shrimp with lobster sauce (usually $8.25, but a $6.95 special the night of our visit) needed more seasoning. A healthy dose of soy sauce improved the taste.

Sweet and sour pork ($4.95) contained lots of chunks of lean pork, coated with a thin batter and a sauce that managed to avoid cloying sweetness.

The beef with ginger and pineapple ($6.75) was everyone's favorite: It had some of the sweetness of the pork dish but a strong and delightful ginger taste. In fact, slivers of ginger masqueraded as beef, so we learned to pick our way carefully through this dish.

Rainbow honey duck ($7.95) also came off well. We would have liked the skin a tad crisper, but the braised duck was covered with a pleasant orange-honey sauce and served with a melange of stir-fried vegetables.

The braised pan-fried chicken with lemon sauce ($6.25) was strong on the lemon flavor and not for those who don't appreciate the tartness of lemon. The chicken strips were succulent and mild--a good foil for the sauce.

The sixth dish in our dinner was deep-fried bean curd with vegetables ($5.25), ordered for the vegetarian in our midst. He didn't like it, and neither did we. The vegetables were flat, the bean curd bland, and the sauce used to flavor the dish was grainy.

It was the only dish we left unfinished, including the rice served in a small bowl to each person. One of the teen-agers requested several re-orders of rice, and our waiter cheerfully provided these at no extra charge.

We didn't intend to order dessert--nor were there any listed on the menu. We were expecting our fortune cookies and the check when the waiter brought a coconut gelatin dessert to each of us plus a plate of fortune and almond cookies for the table. Dessert is on the house at Golden China, and a very pleasant way to end a meal.

Our tab for dinner for seven was $44.85 plus $5.60 for wine and beer and $2.53 for tax. Our family of four's share came to $34.80, including tip.