Hours: Open seven days, 8 a.m. to midnight. Prices: Lunch entrees $3.50 to $5.95; dinner entrees $6.50 to $11.50. Cards: Cash and personal checks only.
Patisseries, like pearls, get much of their luster from personal contact. Les Delices, an indomitable little brasserie/bakery tucked around the Van Ness side of the Tenley Circle office building, is looking a little underloved these days -- what with the undergrads and young moderns in the neighborhood traipsing in and out of the local flash food shops.
The flowers tend to get a little tired, the napoleons a little dry, and the genteel salads can't compete with the bawdy do-it-yourself excesses of the salad bar era; but beneath that tight-budgeted bodice beats a heart of bourgeois hospitality.
This is a good place to go when you're keyed low; when you want a sidewalk dinner without the auto exhaust; when a plain fillet of sole ($5.95 with a small salad, bread and coffee) or a slab of frankly pork pate warmed in a croissant ($3.95) and a glass of wine is all the action you need.
(Wine and beer, incidentally, is all the action you can get, alcoholically speaking; and when it comes to frankly bourgeois, beer -- or "bier" in the ambiguously Alsatian-Swiss-Moroccan vernacular of the menu -- is the better bet.)
The standard menu is fairly straightforward: at lunch it ranges from ham or ham and cheese, roast beef or brie sandwiches to salades nicoise and maison. Dinner entrees have the homey heartiness of beef bourguignon, lamb chops and veal.
These tend to range from fair to good: Under the economic pressures of handling a trickle of customers all day long, the kitchen has fallen back to a safe middle-of-the-road attitude that leans toward medium- to well-done roast beef and lamb chops not quite good enough to serve rare.
Salade nicoise, which in the local parlance of the palate is usually a hearty bowl of chunk tuna and green beans vinaigrette, is a tiny arranged salad with only a bite of either. Onion soup, on the other hand, though delicate rather than rich, has a luxurious canopy of melted cheese worth draping over a dunking of bread.
But don't bank on the menu. The daily specials are Les Delices at its word: coq au vin so tender that even a customer with one arm in a sling can negotiate it; a coquille of tiny scallops and crab-leg meat that manages to be thoroughly au gratin and tender underneath, and a plain but solid cous-cous, complete with lamb shank, that is the regular Saturday night fare. Clearly, the safest way to the chef's heart is through his specials.
The pastry counter is the center of attention, a chrome and glass curio cabinet chock-full of chocolate and piped cream. Tortes, eclairs, layers of filling and scoops of mousse give it the Old Country look of Swiss candy advertisements.
It's best to go lightly on the pastry parts (cut early for display, the layers quickly lose their sense of submission) and to lean on the fruit-topped tarts and light and dark mousses. Or try the jimmie-rolled balls of what tastes like whiskey-and-rye brotarte, mini versions of which come, like fortune cookies, to sweeten the bill.
Finish off with fresh-steamed cappuccino, and linger a while. There's no hurry -- in fact, the menu says only "8 a.m. till late." The staff is friendly, even offhand, and willing to become familiar. And it might be worth the effort -- after all, all it needs is love.