Redesign of the Times
New Look Turns Owings Mills Mainstay Into Something Special
Linwoods was remodeled back in mid-April--and it needed it. It's funny how awkwardly a classic modern interior can age, and Linwoods, after 20 years, was dated. According to a blog on the restaurant's web site, the spring overhaul--a collaboration of Jay Jenkins and Alex Baer, who originally designed the restaurant--was nothing major: "a new color palette, new window treatments, new wall-covering, new furnishings, and an overall more contemporary, updated vibe." There's new carpeting, too, which looks like wood flooring.
The changes may be subtle in the particulars but they aggregate into something big. Linwoods looks awesome--and Linwoods should look good. It's expensive. Most of the meat and seafood entrées are priced in the $30s, with a few in the $40s and a few in the $20s. There are some other options: pizzas priced in the teens, a $13 hamburger, and a $21 tenderloin sandwich. A Stoli Orange is $9.50.
In 20 years, I'd only been to Linwoods once, maybe twice, and that was years ago. My memory is of a joyless, somewhat self-important place. But it didn't feel that way at all on a recent Saturday night; Linwoods felt lighthearted and fun. At least it felt that way seated at the restaurant's "grill line"-- a curving granite counter that places diners within inches of Linwoods' open kitchen, as an alternative to both the dining room and the bar proper. Chef/owner Linwood Dame is still behind the line on a Saturday night, with a crew of various demeanors; some are cheerful, a few are dour. You'll get a greeting from them when you sit down, but otherwise diners and crew tend to leave each other in peace. But if asked, for instance, which red-meat entrée is the one to get, they'll give a real answer, none of that feeble "everything here is good" stuff. And because the kitchen runs so efficiently, it gradually recedes into the background.
The service on this night was a major asset, quick-witted, ready with opinions and advice when needed, thoughtful throughout. It set the stage for a pair of perfect appetizers: a gorgeous brown-crusted tomato tart ($10) with Gruyère and champagne mustard--a whole tart, too, not a slice cut from the whole--and a seafood taster ($15), a trio of eye-pleasing, mouth-watering treats, the star of which is a lump of tuna tartare on a cylinder of fat avocado slices, topped with a dollop of cool cucumber sorbet. Damn good, and so was the tempura shrimp stacked with mango and the pristine pile of crabmeat.
A salad ($12) of crispy fried oysters, beefsteak tomatoes, butter lettuce, and chipotle remoulade will only be as good as its simple ingredients, and all four were sterling, especially the tomatoes. A Caesar salad ($8) was merely fine, with a pleasant anchovy flavor to the dressing and a coolness to the chopped lettuce.
The Delmonico steak ($31) is simply amazing. The name "Delmonico" means different things from region to region, place to place. At Linwoods, it means a big piece of beautifully marbled meat that's been marinated with succulent spices and pounded flat so that it cooks evenly and yields tremendous flavor. It comes with portobello frites. Two meals, easy, and it tasted better the next day. Next to this behemoth, the portion size of the grilled salmon ($31) looked meager, but it's just an illusion. The salmon was delicious, served with a pesto sauce so brilliantly green and fresh it makes you want to fill a swimming pool with it.
Our server's recommendation for dessert was a napoleon of chocolate brownie and vanilla bean cheesecake ($9). Good call, because it was both beautiful and somehow delicate.
I liked Linwoods at the grill line, and that's where I'd sit if I went back. It feels like it could contend for the ultimate martini/hamburger dinner. And it has such a nice cocktail menu: "The Martini: Holland's Ketel One Vodka with a Wisp of Noilly Prat Vermouth, Chilled to Perfection and Anointed with House-made Blue Cheese Olives. ($14)." Someone must owe me dinner.