BREAKING NEWS
Local
Donald Sterling loses court battle to prevent sale of Clippers

Trust your instincts when choosing dishes

ChinaElectrical ApplianceManufacturing and EngineeringVera WangVersacePottery BarnDesign and Engineering

Ranking up there with other huge, irreversible life decisions — What should I major in? Is this Mr. Right? Should I get a tattoo? — is this critical question: Which dishes should I get?

"You have to care," says Shax Riegler, author of "Dish: 813 Colorful, Wonderful Dinner Plates" (Artisan, Oct. 2011), "because you're going to look at them every day." Well, some of them. Other dishes you only haul out for holidays, which means soon.

For those of us who can't make a turkey dinner like the Barefoot Contessa, we figure we can at least get the plates right. I know this is missing the point, like the woman who needs to rush to the emergency room but doesn't know what she should wear. Not that I know anyone like that.

The need to impress others by your choice of household objects, like plates, has caused many brides to utterly seize in the registry department. Many perfectly good engagements never make it to the altar because the act of choosing china sends brides-to-be running from the registry as if from a burning church.

When researching "Dish," Riegler haunted china departments, where he overheard many brides agonizing. "They would start with a lively pattern they liked, then some older, mother-like female relative would say, 'But will you still like it in 20 years?' " Then the bride — if she didn't run off screaming — would default to classic white, perhaps with a simple border.

"People are afraid to have bad taste," said Riegler. Easy for him to say. Mr. Features Editor of House Beautiful is finishing up a Ph.D. at Bard in decorative arts. So while he's getting a doctorate in good taste, the rest of us wing it.

"Dish" can help. A flip through lets you see and compare 800 plates, and get their stories, so you don't feel like a caveperson when selecting out in public.

Riegler starts his plate story in the Middle Ages, when folks ate off thick slabs of bread or slabs of wood. Then some evolving female, tired of mopping gravy off the floor, had the bright idea to carve round impressions into the wood to better hold the food and wooden "trenchers" became the plat du jour.

Eventually, Europeans learned that the Chinese were way ahead in the dish department. As trade with the Far East opened up, the Europeans, especially the English, imported gorgeous porcelain pieces from China (hence the name china) by the boatload.

By the late 1600s the penchant for china had taken such a hold that a name emerged for those who'd developed the tableware sickness "maladie de porcelaine." Some had it bad.

In "Dish," Riegler puts the passion in perspective, sort of. Here's a sampling of his dish on dishes:

•Choosing: Don't go strictly by a brand name. Go with what you respond to.

•Classic or colorful: "The white china plate is the little black dress of the dining table," says Riegler. "You can't go wrong with it, and chefs like to use white as a canvas on which to present food." But unless you're plating up food like a professional, go for color and pattern. "I wish people were more excited about colored dishes," he said, then confessed that his primary set of dishes is the featureless Pottery Barn white dishes. However, he also has a large set of Noritake Bambina, "a haiku in porcelain."

•Washing: Anything made before the 1970s should be hand washed and kept out of the microwave, as should dishes that are hand painted or have gold or silver edging, which sits on top of glazing so is not sealed in. "Even if your fine china says dishwasher safe, hand wash it," he said. The high temperatures can crack or weaken the glaze and cause "crazing." (I loved learning the word for that network web of cracks that run through the glaze on some dishes.) Tip: When hand washing fragile items, line the bottom of the sink with a folded towel, so when something slips it has a soft landing.

•Storing: To avoid nicked edges, don't stack dishes too closely in the cupboard. Don't pile small plates on top of large ones, and load the dishwasher carefully so edges don't hit.

•Repairing: To repair a dish, wash pieces in warm soapy water. Let them dry at least an hour. Use clear epoxy glue. Apply a thin coat to one side, using as little as possible. Fit the pieces together. Use masking tape or rubber bands to hold pieces securely while they dry. Remove excess glue from seam with acetone. The piece will be fine for display and gentle use, but keep it out of hot water and never soak it.

•Trending: Popular today are patterns named for top designers, including Vera Wang, Kate Spade and Versace. "That gets back to people having no confidence in their own taste. They think having a fashion designer's name on their plates is some endorsement that they do."

•Enduring: Spode Christmas Tree and Lenox Holiday, both Christmas dishes, are the two top-ranking patterns and have been for decades. "The holidays are, for some, the only time they think about entertaining, so they get plates for that one occasion," he said. Blue and white patterns, such as Blue Danube, endure because they go back to early imported chinoiserie. Fiesta ware, among the best sellers of all time, also ranks high. Thanksgiving dishes (ironically most come from England) are also consistently popular. The Johnson Brothers His Majesty makes the top 100.

Personally, as I look toward Thanksgiving, I'm thinking of serving the meal on thick slabs of bread. That will cut down on dishes, and nothing will get nicked.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
ChinaElectrical ApplianceManufacturing and EngineeringVera WangVersacePottery BarnDesign and Engineering
Comments
Loading