Jacques' Cafe

4001 North Fairfax Dr.

Arlington

528-8500 or 528-7548

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday. No lunch on Saturday. Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Light fare available between meals, and for one hour after dinner. Sunday brunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Prices: Dinner, soups and appetizers $2.95 to $5.75; entrees $12.95 to $18.95.

Cards: All major credit cards accepted. Nonsmoking area available.

At the old Jacques' Cafe in Clarendon, owner Jacques Hachana, didn't bother to don his jacket when he patrolled the floor of the cozy, endearingly funky storefront.

But now, a dark, continental suit seems de rigueur in his bright new Ballston digs decorated with sconces and replete with mauve table linens and a mahogany bar on the ground floor of a modern office building.

At its former location, Jacques' Cafe had carved out a rather unique niche in Northern Virginia, combining casual French dining with late-night jazz.

Indeed, some of the old Jacques' is still in evidence, such as the figure of Baptiste, the full-size rag doll of a French peasant seated at his accustomed place just inside the door.

And live jazz is still the featured entertainment (nightly from 6:30 to 10:30 Monday through Saturday and 7:30 to 10:30 on Sunday).

An unusual variety of beers was a trademark at the old Jacques' Cafe, and beer aficionados will appreciate Hachana's expanded selection here -- more than 50 choices, ranging from Xingu, a pint of black beer from Amazon Inc. of Brazil, to the new micro-brew lager from Brooklyn.

As for the food, while this is not a place to look for bargains or innovations, the kitchen can be commended for its consistently good dishes.

Start with a smooth, full-flavored pate de campagne or a pureed fish soup, briny and tomato-based. An icy cream of cucumber soup or garlicy gazpacho is refreshing on a hot day. The pair of large pasta shells stuffed with spinach and mushrooms would make either a tasty appetizer or satisfying light fare, although the blanket of cheese sauce was reminiscent of processed cheese.

A dozen regular entrees are augmented by five or six daily specials.

One of the latter was a terrific plate of sauteed calves liver and onions accompanied by miniature roasted potatoes, zucchini and carrots.

Another special worth looking for is the pair of crab cakes ($14.95) boasting a spicy kick and plenty of lump crab meat.

Bouillabaisse Marseillaise ($16.95) arrived with a hearty seafood broth sparked by onions and green peppers, featuring chunks of flat fish plus shellfish, such as mussels, shrimp and rock lobster tail. While not the best bouillabaisse I've tasted, this is a pleasing choice.

Two other seafood dishes were nicely done: a fillet of monkfish that stood up well to its herb-enhanced tomato sauce, and a fillet of salmon topped with a dill-flecked cream.

The steak au poivre ($18.95), the most expensive item on the menu, was pretty good, the meat was perfectly cooked with a decent flavor and texture and the peppercorn-brandy sauce was well balanced.

A chicken breast with green peppercorns and green grapes was similarly successful.

There are a number of worthwhile desserts to finish off a meal.

The dense, silken creme caramel is beautifully presented with a touch of raspberry sauce and slices of kiwi, or try the fresh berries drizzled with zabaglione. Better-than-average cakes include mandarine orange, chocolate-chocolate and moca.