Restaurateurs Linwood and Ellen Dame hosted a dinner party that pulled out all the stops.

When guests received the pretty hand-written invitations to a “springtime dinner” at Linwood and Ellen Dame’s Cockeysville home, they knew they could count on a special evening. After all, these are stylish restaurant owners who know good food and wine. “People really do expect more,” admits Ellen, who helps her husband run Linwood’s and Due in Owings Mills. “So we try to put a lot of effort into it, to make it special.”

The Dames, with the help of a Linwood’s executive chef, Tom Devine, and servers Ken Tipper and John Tranchina, certainly delivered the goods on this Sunday evening, serving a complex four-course meal for 16 in an earthy but elegant setting that celebrated spring’s bounty.

Guests sipped Piper Heidsieck champagne and nibbled on thin slices of tenderloin rolled with olive tapenade and arugula, and pinwheels of grilled eggplant with marinated mozzarella as chef Devine put the finishing touches on the first course. Soon, candles were lit in what’s usually the living room – a space Ellen and floral designer Barbara Taylor, one of the party guests, had transformed into a romantic dining room for the evening. A massive antique table was piled with lavish mounds of baby vegetables and flowers and illuminated by two moss-covered candelabra. “They were just the most adorable things, these little squashes, carrots with their tops on, white radishes, even fiddlehead ferns,” recalls Taylor, who attached the gourmet produce to a styrofoam base and added white roses, anemones, moss, and galax leaves.

Along one wall, moss-covered pedestals held vases full of dogwood and lilac. “Barbara didn’t have time to cover the pedestal, so she bought me my first Martha Stewart glue gun and some moss and told me to do it,” says Ellen with a laugh.

Linwood had been playing with the menu for more than a month. “We try to stay away from the food we serve in the restaurant, to do something different.” This night’s something different began with an extravagant chilled Maine lobster salad. A roasted potato tart followed, its thin slices of potato sandwiching a mixture of goat cheese, olives and oven-dried tomatoes. Next up, a main course of roasted lamb wrapped in spinach and prosciutto.

Dessert came in gentle waves. First came individual chocolate soufflés cooked in wonton wrappers and served with vanilla ice cream and several chocolate twigs. Then everyone lingered over chocolate truffles and tuiles, with refills of strong, if decaf, Café la Semeuse.

“We often entertain more casually, too, and Linwood often prepares the meal,” says Ellen. “But for a more formal party, we let the restaurant cater it. We feel it gives our friends, especially the ones with young children, a chance to really relax,” says Ellen, whose own 3-year-old was spending the night at Grandma’s. “It’s nice to sit there and not have to get up and do anything, not even go to the buffet. We like to spoil ourselves and our guests.”

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