THE COOKTOP is the hallmark of the new European look in kitchen design: a simple black glass rectangle with four cast-iron circles in which electric elements are embedded. The advantage of the new cooktop is that it retains heat better and delivers that heat more evenly. And if a pot boils over, the liquid won't seep down into the cooking elements below. This feature also eliminates the need for cumbersome drip pans.

Two firms, Dacor and Thermador, both make new Euro-cooktops. The Thermador version, called the Europa (pictured here), has a built-in thermostat that drops the setting automatically if the pot gets too hot. In the Dacor version, called the "Continental," the burners are not lined up symmetrically but, instead, are offset so that cookware handles can be out of the way.

The new cooktop may soon take the place of the down-draft cooking ranges that have been so popular in the gourmet kitchens. The noise of the exhaust fan for the built-in grills on many of these prestige kitchen appliances has made many people think twice about installing them.

The design of the cooktop is like the rest of the Euro-style kitchen -- clean-lined and simple. Since European kitchens are smaller than American kitchens, every inch of the European appliance is planned for maximum usage. The new countertops are thinner, with a rounded edge. The same rounded edge is found in cabinet doors and drawers. Colors range from pale gray to light wood tones and rich blacks.

It's clear the Euro cook looks for unobtrusive, efficient appliances. But despite its quiet modesty, the Euro-style kitchen is starting to warm the heart of the flamoyant gourmets as well.