Tables are set for eating elegantly Restaurant: Quite sophisticated and comfortable, Linwood's serves food that is just about perfect. The signature veal chop is magnificent.

February 23, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

The hostess leads us into Linwood's handsome dining room, all dark wood and sleek curves. When we reach our table, I look down and spend a moment admiring it. This is a roomy table set for serious eating. The linen is good quality, white and spotless, the napkins folded simply. The silverware, a plain pattern, looks pleasingly heavy. The china is classic white; the glassware, clean-lined. No flowers or candles. A real pepper grinder sits next to the salt shaker.

I like this table so much it almost makes up for the fact that we've been seated as close as possible to the kitchen door -- even though it's a rainy Tuesday night and the restaurant isn't nearly half full.

But when you realize that this was my most serious complaint about our evening at Linwood's, you'll have a good idea of why this self-styled cafe-grill, where you can spend $50 a person without half trying, remains such a favorite with so many people.

Oh, there are things I could nit-pick about. I'm no longer enchanted, for instance, with strongly fragrant decorative sprays rosemary when the herb isn't an ingredient in the dish. But food like Linwood's signature veal chop with broccoli and a sweet-onion-stuffed potato is as close to perfection as it gets. The magnificent chop is bathed in a rich demi--glace; a bit of elegant hollandaise graces the perfectly cooked broccoli. The earthy flavor of the potato is all the better for the sweetness of its onion stuffing. And one fine fried onion ring leans jauntily against the broccoli.

Less expensive dishes

Linwood's menu changes weekly, but there's usually a veal chop on it. Yet you don't have to spend $27 for your main course if you don't want to. Pastas, salads and sandwiches like grilled chicken on sourdough share equal billing with grilled venison and rack of lamb.

You could even make a light supper of an appetizer like the rich potato torta layered with smoked salmon, with mesclun greens draped with more smoked salmon next to it. Or the sweet-sour barbecued shrimp over a salad of chayote and slivered red peppers strewn with dry-roasted peanuts. (But then you would miss the rich textures of portobello, cremini and shiitake mushrooms nestled in a puff pastry shell -- the "wild mushroom pie" appetizer on the menu.)

Linwood's New American cuisine is interspersed with comfort food: homey dishes like roast chicken with whipped potatoes and calf's liver with onions and bacon. There are also a few classics like sole meuniere -- gently sauteed fish in a buttery sauce with lemon juice and parsley. (No surprises, good or bad, with this one.) Or for something a little more adventuresome, you could try the robust, tender (but not extraordinarily flavorful) grilled venison loin and wild rice studded with pecans and dried cherries.

The same combination of sophistication and comfort that ran through the whole meal was found among Linwood's desserts. There's bread pudding -- but it's chocolate, an elegant take on an old favorite. There's the Jackie O of ice cream sandwiches, made with quality ice cream, cut in sections and arranged with a couple of different dessert sauces.

But for pure homey comfort, wait the required 20 minutes and enjoy the hot, fragrant apple tart. And for pure sophistication, luxuriate in Linwood's classic creme brulee with its custard of heavy cream and egg yolks and its crackling caramelized sugar topping.

Linwood's

Where: 25 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills

Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner every day

Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$11.95; entrees, $13.95-$26.95. Major credit cards

Call: (410) 356-3030.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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