Andre's in Amber

Change creeps slowly at Andre's, the timeless Swiss tea room that has puttered along for decades at the gateway to River Oaks Boulevard. Behind its blank, windowless facade lurks a cozy, Alpine cottage-esque world of blond paneling, snug booths and ditsy chairs with hearts carved into their backs. Sensible waitresses still reign, although these days they may have Spanish accents; churchy matrons and office workers still show up for the reassuring mittel-European plate lunches. Up front, Andre's meticulously layered tortes and petits fours sparkle eternally in their glass cases.

But wait. Can that be polenta on the menu? Beef goulash on polenta, for crying out loud? And what about the trendy cappuccino and hazelnut coffee that have wormed their way onto the menu? Is nothing sacred?

No need to panic, as it turns out. The fat wedges of simple quiche Lorraine, which Andre's served long before (and long after) quiche was cool, are as comforting as ever: nutty with full-bodied Gruyere; molten and quasi-bread-puddingy; nursery food of a sublimely changeless sort. And, in an age when microwaves have plunged quiche into a devolutionary cesspool, Andre's may be the only one left in town with reasonably crisp crust.

The iceberg salad Andre's has served forever still wears the brisk, mustardy vinaigrette that makes it a retro gem (sold up front, this is one of the few bottled dressings I'll let into my refrigerator). But the once-sprightly grated-carrot salad that rounds out Andre's plates seems much subdued of late.

And the pastries included with every lunch seem quainter than they used to. The chocolate-and-kirsch torte cloys, and its mint-green tint looks disconcerting in 1994. But bitter chocolate coaxed into the shape of a miniature mandolin, then filled with apricot mousse -- a sort of giant, decadent bonbon -- is entertainingly over-the-top. Better yet is the assortment of puff-pastry danishes available for purchase on your way out. Crisp, many-leaved and glossed with a simple sugar glaze, they include a superbly tart apple-and-raisin dumpling, a bracing raspberry square, an almond-and-apricot half moon and a slender hazelnut twist that could strut its stuff on Vienna's Karntnerstrasse. In a city full of mediocre croissants, Andre's danishes are a welcome antidote -- and, at 85 cents, a steal.

-- Alison Cook

quiche Lorraine plate, $7.50;
apple danish, 85 cents;
mustard vinaigrette, $2.10.


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