Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Atmosphere: Friendly and comfortable with French country kitchen decor.
Price Range: Salads and soups, $1.50 to $2.25; entrees, $3.35 to $6.25; desserts, $1.65 to $1.95.
Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa.
Special Facilities: Booster chairs; plenty of free parking in the White Flint Mall parking lot; no children menu; parts of restaurant not accessible to wheelchair, but management will be helpful.
Reservations: Reservations are not taken.
La ruche, the French word for beehive, is the appropriate name for Cafe La Ruche, located on the top level of White Flint Mall. Little dining nooks fitted closely together, like the cells of a beehive, make up the inside portion of the restaurant. Even the upholstery on the bench backs is a honeycomb design. At the entrance to the restaurant is a sidewalk cafe dining area, separated from the mall thoroughfare by a white picket fence.
White Flint Mall itself is a beehive of activity with a variety of stores, five movie theaters and several restaurants all located under one roof. Cafe La Ruche is located opposite the five movie theaters and can be extremely busy on weekends especially when the movies let out and movie-goers relaize they are hungry. We ate there on a weekday night and found it to be moderately busy.
The proximity of some of the indoor tables proves to be a problem since there is not adequate space for the waitress to get between them to serve. We found ourselves passing hot crocks of soup across the table, which could be a bit hazardous with small children around.
The menu at Cafe La Ruche is decorated with bees and is written in French with English translations. It includes three salads. The salade Nicoise, $4.25, and the salade printaniere, a spinach salad for $3.95, looked large enough to be complete meals.
The onion soup, $1.50, came in a crock covered with melted cheese and although there were lots of onions, the broth tasted weak. We also ordered the crabmeat soup, $2.25, which was a rich bisque containing an ample supply of crabmeat.
Our youngest gourmet, who is a great fan of quiches, chose the crabmeat quiche, $4.65, for an entree. The quiche was light, the crust flaky, and chunks of crabmeat were mixed throughout. But the delicate flavor of the quiche did not benefit from the addition of hollandaise sauce and chopped parsley. The portion was large -- approximately one-fourth of the whole quiche -- and would have satisfied a hungry adult.
There are three other quiches on the menu: ham and cheese, mushroom and spinich. All of these cost $4.10 per serving.
Two types of entrees are featured at Cafe La Ruche. Those dishes referred to on the menu as "petite entrees" are lighter dishes such as egg souffle florentine, $3.95, or zucchini pie, $3.95. A ham sandwich is $3.35 and the pate de campagne is $3.45.
The croque monsieur, a French toast baked with ham and cheese, was crisp and the cheese melted over a large piece of ham to provide a rich and filling dish. A variation of this dish, prepared with corned beef in place of ham, is called croque New-Yorker.
The other type of entree is listed under "today's special" on the menu and tends to consist of heartier dishes. A typical daily menu might include chicken crepes, $4.95; London broil, $6; avocado with crab, $6.25; calves liver, $5.95; and chicken amandine, $5.95.
Calves liver was one of the daily specials the evening we ate at Cafe La Ruche and was indeed special. It was ordered medium rare, cooked exactly to that degree and served with a small amount of cheese melted over it. The liver was accompanied by scalloped potatoes, broccoli, which did not suffer from over-cooking, and a ratatouille that had obviously been prepared with great care. The individual vegetables were distinct in shape, not mushed together, yet there was a melange of flavors.
The London broil, ordered medium rare, was cooked with the same care as the liver. It, too, had broccoli and potatoes accompanying it.
Everything on the menu is a la carte including the French bread, which was outstanding and is exactly the kind that a French restaurant is proud to serve. It had a crisp crust, was soft inside and had good flavor.
The waitress was friendly and tried to be helpful but was not totally familiar with all the dishes on the menu. A forgotten salad was brought to the table immediately after we reminded the waitress that it was missing.
Our collective sweet tooth overruled those nagging thoughts of extra calories as soon as we looked at the desserts in the refrigerated case at the front of the restaurant.
The chocolate lovers in our family voted for the chocolate mousse, $1.85, which was light and creamy with a rich chocolate flavor. The orange and strawberry tarts had flaky pastry and fresh fruit with cream filling, which was the perfect complement to both the fruit and pastry.
The bill for our family of five was $50 not including tip. Since the portions were large and the dishes rich and filling, we could have ordered one less entree and reduced our cost.