Atrium

Marriott Hotel, 6400 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt

441-3700

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Dinner 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $8 to $16.

Credit Cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa.

Generally speaking, what one expects from a restaurant in a chain hotel is reliability: decent but not necessarily memorable food, fair prices, a pleasant environment. The Atrium fulfills those criteria, more or less.

The dining room is lovely, a bright, airy rectangle with a sloped glass ceiling, a glass wall at one end and its own little waterfall to add tranquillity. (The tranquillity is compromised, unfortunately, by the loud elevator music that pervades the place.) The food and prices are inconsistent. Some items are excellent, others poor. Some are overpriced, others bargains. That means it takes careful ordering to eat well here -- but it can be done.

The menu is standard restaurant fare: steak, chicken, lamb chops, shrimp, a fish special, a burger, a couple of pasta dishes, etc. The clams casino appetizer has been fine, with plump clams and generous slices of still-flexible bacon.

Perhaps the best appetizer in the house is a shared order of tortellini Alfredo, with nicely chewy pasta and a light, tangy sauce, neither too thick nor too rich. Another good shared appetizer, or a light meal on its own, is the pizza. It has a thick, crisp-bottomed crust, nicely puffy, with plenty of good mozzarella and a lively tomato sauce. The second pasta dish, fettuccine carbonara, is terminally bland. It might be revived with salt, pepper, garlic, egg, bacon and some cheese with real flavor.

Three special economy-priced dinners are available from 5 to 7 p.m., one of which is a daily fish special at $9.95. When it's the swordfish, you've got an impressive bargain, a firm, juicy slab of fish resting on a lovely butter-cream-peppercorn-brandy sauce, served with decent rice. A seasonal special is the baby back ribs, a full rack for $9.95. If the ribs were succulent and if the sauce were less candy-sweet, this would be another bargain.

On the regular menu, the grilled salmon is nicely moist, but it's accompanied by a deadly-bland dill sauce that's even duller than the carbonara -- better ask for the sauce on the side. The lamb chops are excellent, crusty-surfaced, commendably juicy, cooked as ordered. But the mixed grill is a $16.95 disaster: an ordinary piece of butterflied chicken breast, a dry, mealy lamb chop and a disk of pounded veal scallopine. The vegetables that accompany the entrees have been unpleasantly waterlogged and the baked potatoes dried out.

For $4 extra you can supplement your meal with a pleasant salad bar (on the night we tried it, it included a salty, canned-tasting beef vegetable soup). A better bet is the excellent onion vinaigrette, sliced fresh tomato topped with chopped onion and crumbled blue cheese and accompanied by a good, peppery, nicely herbed vinaigrette.

For dessert, stick with plain ice cream. The "little devil" is a nice brownie with vanilla ice cream, but it's topped with an insipid, gel-like fudge sauce and a gassy "whipped topping." The chocolate mousse is tan in color, wan in flavor and leaves a waxy coating in your mouth.