If you had to design a restaurant to suit the White Flint Mall, you couldn't come up with a better fit than La Ruche.

It's upscale but not expensive, French but not intimidatingly so, and it nicely bridges the gap between the fast food places and the trendy watering holes. It also fills a multitude of needs: drinks, coffee and pastries, snacks, full dinners.

This is not a gorgeous place -- the interior is mainly fake Tudor and the tables are small and closely spaced -- but it's convivial and cozy. Service has been a little iffy lately, with some waitresses efficient, others forgetful and distracted.

The menu consists of a standard list of salads, soups, quiches, sandwiches and the like, as well as a "gourmetisserie" of cold dishes and 10 or so daily entree specials. There is a refrigerator case full of homemade desserts.

Salads are made here with fresh components and good basic vinaigrette dressings. Even the simple house salad is big and made with Boston lettuce, romaine and escarole. The Caesar salad is excellent, too, with a dressing not overdosed with anchovies, and the nicoise and printaniere salads are properly generous with ingredients other than lettuce. Soups, too, have been very good. The best of them are the crab -- tomato-cream based and vividly flavored -- and the potato-leek, rich with butter and cream and admirably subtle.

The cheesy, creamy dishes tend to be excessively rich. Egg souffle florentine, for example, starts with a gem of a souffle, feather-light and just touched with nutmeg, and then drowns its delicacy in a veritable ocean of melted cheese. Sandwiches, on either croissants or french bread, are generally decent. But we've found the croissants a bit soggy.

The gourmetisserie selections are pleasant enough, although their sauces tend to be a lot blander than the menu descriptions would indicate. Portions seem to range unpredictably from generous to skimpy. Among the better items are big, plump shrimp, gently flavored with tarragon; a chunky turkey salad and an excellent ratatouille with firm, flavorful vegetables.

Desserts, which are made on the premises, are mainly very good. Among the winners are a dense, intensely flavored chocolate cheesecake, a smooth bavarian cream, and crackly crusted fruit tarts. The layer cakes seem excessively sweet, as does the chocolate mousse.