White Flint Mall, Kensington

231-8011

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Most items $6 to $8.

Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.

When Tanglewood's opened in White Flint three years ago, it impressed us as a better than average place for snacks and light meals, for desserts and coffee, for an appetizer and a drink.

Not only was the food generally good, but the service also was quick and the environment restful to the eyes and ears. It was, in other words, just the right restaurant for a shopping mall. After a few recent visits, we see no reason to change our minds. If anything, the food has improved. (Interestingly, the items we criticized in our original review early in 1985 are dramatically better -- probably a coincidence, but we'd like to think otherwise.) Tanglewood's is still a delightful oasis of tranquility in the midst of shopping-center overload, with soft lights, quiet acoustics, comfortable chairs, lots of plants and natural wood.

The prices are generally reasonable and the menu is what you'd expect: soups, salads, sandwiches, quiches, burgers and other grilled meats, a few pastas, a sizable list of desserts. Most of the dishes are good, with a few items remarkably so. (There's now a Tanglewood's in Gaithersburg's Lake Forest Mall that apparently has the same menu.)

Among the appetizers, Chinatown chicken -- strips of unusually moist chicken breast in a crisp, nongreasy batter -- is top-notch. Fried zucchini is very good, too, lightly battered and lively. Creamed vegetable soups remain outstanding; we recently had an excellent split pea with bacon and sour cream. They do a very good job with salads, too. The spinach salad is fresh, well washed and dried, and the house dressing is a pleasant, mild, sweet and sour blend. The mandarin chicken salad adds teriyaki-grilled chicken, mandarin orange slices and almonds -- it's a beauty.

The hamburgers are fine -- big, thick, reasonably juicy, cooked as ordered, served on decent kaiser rolls. Of the several varieties, the peppery Cajun burger is especially good. The french fries are excellent, too, light, golden-colored, not greasy, with just the right texture.

Pastas are a good bet, if the fettuccine carbonara is any guide. Its cream-egg-cheese sauce is rich but light and nicely balanced, and there's plenty of smoky flavor from bacon and ham. The stir-fried dishes -- chicken and vegetables -- are also pleasant, made with a ginger-laced teriyaki sauce and served with commendably firm rice. Omelettes are good, too, with fluffy egg and distinctly flavored fillings -- try the one with apples and cedar cheese. Jambalaya is surprisingly successful, properly peppery and with good, spicy sausage, ham and shrimp. The croissants that accompany most of the entrees have been excellent lately -- light, flaky, slightly crisp-surfaced.

A couple of flops: grilled salmon that was overcooked and dryish, and a roast beef "Wellington" -- wrapped in puff pastry -- that was limp and short on flavor.

Desserts here are a must, especially the intensely flavored chocolate mousse; the dense, old-fashioned cheesecake; the chimi, a flaky fried pastry filled with apples and served with a kahlua sauce; and, excessive but irresistible, the brown derby, a glorious conglomeration of first-class brownies, coffee ice cream, coffee-spiked chocolate sauce and real whipped cream.