Hours: Every day 11 a.m. to midnight (give or take half an hour, depending on the day or the weather).

Atmosphere: Flowery and friendly with France-cum-California flair.

Price Range: Quiches will set you back $4.75 or so, soups are just under $3, and most entrees are between $8 and $10.

Credit Cards: Visa and MasterCharge

Reservations: Not accepted.

Special Facilities: No booster or high chairs, but little ones probably wouldn't be comfortable here anyway. Accessible by wheelchair; plenty of free parking space in the Mazza Gallerie lot.

Even if the food weren't so good, Maxime would still emerge on the recommended list for its friendliness and its location in the heart of that developer's gold mine, Friendship Heights.

My 13-year-old daughter and her good friend, when they are feeling flush with babysitting or lawn-mowing money, often trundle into Maxime for an afternoon of free association with the pastry case -- "I'll have the chocolate mousse or maybe the apple tart or perhaps the chocolate roule or maybe the walnut cake or maybe. . ."

In a world where 13-year-olds are often treated like a contagious disease, the folks at Maxime have always taken good care of them. And it's a smart move on Maxime's part too -- after all, who in the world has more money to spend than a 13-year-old with a steady babysitting job? And who can eat as much?

But friendliness at Maxime extends beyond simple hospitality to 13-year-olds. We've all been in restaurants where waiters are hissing at each other and an ax murder -- at least -- has just taken place in the kitchen. At Maxime, there is an air of content.

Now, belatedly, to the food.

The food is good, solid French bistro-type stuff, with heavy emphasis on soup, quiche and salad, but there is also an impressive selection of more complicated fare such as canard a l'o-range and poached salmon with sorrel cream sauce.

Desserts are out of the ordinary, the star among them being an outrageous chocolate mousse so dark and rich that even the most demanding chocolate mavens will clap their hands for joy.

We tried three soups: vichyssoise, onion and pea. The vichyssoise was highly flavored but lacking something in richness, although not irredeemably lacking. The pea soup was a comforting thought on this howling, icy winter night, and came through with its legendary warming properties. The vichyssoise and the pea soup were $2.75 each.

The French onion soup was a meal in itself. Topped with a layer of melted cheese thick enough to get you through the coldest winter night, the soup itself was made with good beef stock and well-simmered onions. It cost $2.95.

An order of quiche savoyarde -- quiche with ham and Swiss cheese -- was slightly different from what Americans have come to expect of quiche. The crust was a modified puff pastry molded into a French straightsided flan mold and filled with creamy, well-flavored custard. A very generous wedge cost $4.75 and was worth all of it.

Two dishes from the more serious side of the menu proved satisfying if not in the exquisite creations of a three-star chef. They were both robustly flavored and honestly prepared, as opposed to gussied up with parsley and spiced apple ring camouflage.

Les piccatas (French for veal picatta) were small medallions of veal flavored very simply with lemon sauce and served with fresh green beans ($7.95).They were breaded, which hardly seemed necessary, and sauteed in butter.

The duck a l'orange ($9.25) proved very successful with its caramelized, crispy skin and sweet-tart orange sauce. The duck was minus its ugly fat and roasted to a perfect turn, then served with rice with which to enjoy the last drops of orange sauce.

We had a chance to sample the house salad, a plate of various lettuces topped with raw sliced mushrooms and spears of white asparagus. The dressing was a nicely flavored vinaigrette, and altogether the salad was several cuts above the usual limp iceberg.

Now we get down to the real reason for our trip to Maxime -- the pastry case. All four of us indulged, and some of us even went so far as to order espresso to accompany our indulgences. We can vouch for the chocolate mousse, and also most definitely for the tia maria mousse, a light but rich concoction flavored but not overwhelmed by the liqueur.

The walnut cake consisted of thin layers of heavy graham-cracker-like cake separated by whipped cream. It will be just the ticket for you if you like your desserts rich but not overly sweet. Creme caramel was a bit leaden, probably the result of using sweetened condensed milk.

Next time we look forward to trying the fruit tarts and the chocolate roule, a simple chocolate sponge cake rolled up with whipped cream filling.

Desserts hover in the $2 range, not a pittance, but then you are getting real whipped cream for your money instead of fluorocarbons.

Those of you who've visited European cafes will recognize the comforting screech of a real espresso machine behind the bar, and perhaps might eveen get away with telling the kiddies that this is just what Europe is like.