Splendid taste of Tuscany Restaurant: At Due, Linwood's casual cousin, the prices are high - but so is the quality.

July 12, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Linwood Dame's two Owings Mills restaurants are a study in contrasts. The upscale Linwood's, which features regional American specialties, has a dark sophistication. Due, its more casual Mediterranean cousin, has all the brightness of Tuscany. That's apparent from the moment you enter its tiled hallway featuring a colorful mural of a sun-baked Italian town.

The 5-year-old Due is done in a scheme of brown and white - warm wood paneling and chairs contrasting with white tablecloths, scalloped curtains and an exuberant display of cooking utensils spray-painted white and arranged like flowers on long wooden stems.

At the center of things is the copper-accented exhibition kitchen, where three chefs turn out fabulous Italian fare, from simple brick-oven pizzas to uptown grilled fish and meats.

Prices are uptown, too, with most entrees above $20. Most expensive of all - at $28.95 - is the garlic-studded veal chop, several inches thick, buttery tender, and worth every penny. Glazed in a rich, brown sauce, it was served with caramelized onions, gently sauteed spinach and herb-roasted baby new potatoes.

On the other side of the culinary and budgetary spectrum, the pizza scampi was equally well done, made on the thinnest of cornmeal crusts and topped with garlic oil, jumbo shrimp and robust cheeses. Fried garlic slices dotted the top, a pungent alternative to pepperoni.

Those crispy garlic slices also were scattered over our crab and corn risotto appetizer, giving a deeper note to what was a deliciously light take on this rice classic. The lumps of crab remained intact, and fresh kernels of corn burst with sweet flavor in each bite. We sampled risotto again with our grilled tuna. It was spread with an assertive olive tapenade and came atop a bright-green spinach risotto that was mild-tasting and creamy-textured.

The hit of the night was the polenta-stuffed portobello appetizer, a savory layer cake that sandwiched cornmeal and ricotta between roasted mushroom caps. The polenta itself was different from any I've ever tasted - smoother, richer, certainly the best I've had in Baltimore.

As for our salad of thinly sliced rare lamb, arugula and white bean salad, we liked the mix of flavors and the way cracked black peppercorns intensified the peppery flavor of the bitter greens.

Our advice is to skip the bruschetta with goat cheese and diced vegetables. There are other more interesting appetizers, and you're bound to have your share of bread anyway, especially if your server is as diligent as ours. She kept our tiny wire bread basket constantly filled with tempting slices of soft focaccia and crusty loaves.

Only the fettuccine with charred vegetables, Gorgonzola and beef tenderloin got a lukewarm reception. The flavors were lackluster, the cheese was undetectable and the fan-sliced beef on top was obviously underdone for an order of medium.

But one miss is not bad for a dinner that started with salt-rubbed focaccia as good as my Italian grandmother's, and finished with four-star desserts. Rich creme brulee with chunks of melted chocolate. A tower of cornmeal pound cake filled with strawberry cream and surrounded by fresh berries and sauces. A blueberry tart, wrapped in a flat pentagon of buttery pastry and drizzled with creme anglaise. Splendido.


Food: ***1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***1/2

Where: 25 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills

Hours: Open daily for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$10.95; entrees, $10.95-$28.95; major cards, except Discover

Call: 410-356-4147

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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