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IN THE KITCHEN

AROUND HOME : Notes on Southwest Dishes, Wood Turning and Cesca Chairs : Southwest Service

July 10, 1988|RUTH REICHL

THE MOST LUXURIOUS railroad car in Europe could be found on the Orient Express, which whisked its riders around in opulent fashion. The words alone conjure up an image of almost wicked luxury. America's toniest train, on the other hand, had an entirely different look. It was the Super Chief on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, and it went fancy by going native, celebrating the art of the American West.

As the Santa Fe sped from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, its passengers were carried in cozy comfort, surrounded by a Western look that would have made many a modern decorator jealous. When the passengers wanted a bite to eat, they went off to the dining car, where they found themselves dining on plates specially created by Mary Colter, a designer and a devotee of Indian art. When Colter was commissioned to make the plates, she went out and began researching designs. When she found the ancient motifs of the tribes of the Mimbres Valley, she knew she had found what she was looking for. She adapted the geometric patterns and stylized animals, using different images for each serving piece. The result was some of the most attractive china ever put on wheels.

The Santa Fe railroad served its last meal in 1971, and collectors snapped up the surviving plates. But now that Western is all the rage, this Southwest china is being faithfully reproduced. The dinner plate is geometric, the bread plate features a turtle, the salad plate an antelope. One huge platter is adorned with a turkey; the abstract sugar bowl is fabulous.

But the very best piece of all is the cereal bowl, where a stylized rabbit jumps over the moon. It would be just the thing for chili, which would be pleased to be served in such an authentic Southwest setting.

Mimbreno cereal bowl, $15.50 each (plus 5% for shipping) from Nostalgia Station Ltd., 1000 Light St., Baltimore Md. 21230; telephone (301) 837-3625. Other dishes in the set range from $6.50 to $55.

Also available at Umbrello in West Hollywood.

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