Dining

The Basic White Restaurant Plate Has Met Its Match

At an increasing number of restaurants, character rules when it comes to your dinner plate
Restaurant Dinner Plate Trends
Photo: The Restaurant at Meadowood

For decades, the standard plate for meals at nearly any restaurant has been white. Namely, a round white plate with a shiny glazed finish. IKEA outpost in New Jersey? Round white plates. Le Bernardin? Round white plates. Time-traveling to dinner at Lutèce? You'd also be dining on the same.

Though there have been some tweaks to this standard—like the square or rectangular white plate, which is dishware shorthand for "fusion restaurant"—white plates are chosen for good reason. The unobtrusive color won't clash with food or sauce, and shifts the focus to the plating itself. However, a new trend on the table is proving understated doesn't always have to be basic. More restaurants are opting for plates, platters and cups with a handmade look. The difference isn't just in color, but also in texture and form. Instead of glossy perfection, these plates have a little more character.

At Lilia in Williamsburg, you'll find matte plates in shades of ivory and white. The plates have a defined lip (similar to a tray), a flourish that creates a dimensional frame that turns a meal into a composition. That lip also often reveals a muted brown hue that echoes the natural hues of the restaurant's seafood, meat or hearth-baked bread. (The color scheme also nods to the interior of Lilia.) These details bring out the beauty of the food, rather than relying on the blank canvas of a standard white plate.

 

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Over in the Napa Valley, an area that has always kept ceramicists in business, the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood opts for handmade pieces from nearby artist Lynn Mahon. (One estimate claims  the restaurant has ordered up to 700 pieces since 2008.) Choosing a local source for the dishes aligns with the restaurant's locally-focused menu. Diners can sense the hand of the artist through nuanced details. For instance, a white plate may appear to be a circle, but a closer look reveals subtle imperfections on the edges that contrast (and draw the eye to) the natural symmetry of the restaurant's "foievocado." 

Contrast is also evident through color, like a black plate that enhances the vibrancy of a bright soup. Low grooves within the plate can catch light, bringing depth and dimension to the black hue.

Commissioned ceramics aren't seen only as accessories that enhance food, but can also help create a more rich dining experience. "The move toward more unique spaces that have a personal touch is a reaction to the overly designed spaces of the 90s and 2000s, and that trend has evolved over time," says Amy Morris of The MP Shift, a New York City-based design and branding studio that focuses on the hospitality industry. "The MP Shift brings this personal touch into spaces by highlighting the imperfection in the flow and details. When customers notice these subtle details, be it a cracked wall at De Maria filled in with brass pieces and smaller tiles, or custom ceramics on the table, they feel like they are in space that is the product of time and the owner's personal touch." Of course, there's another benefit: Artful plates also enhance Instagram photos taken by diners as well.

There's evidence that this desire for handcrafted details in dishware is making the jump to home kitchens. At Crate & Barrel, you'll find the Marin Dinner Plates, a line of seemingly hand-formed plates in a rainbow of color options. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before one-of-a-kind plates make their way from restaurant tables on to wedding registries.

Brie Dyas is a contributing writer for Tasting Table and an avid collector of your grandmother's fine china. You can find her occasionally sharing photos on Instagram at @briedyas.

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