open the book on this daring, delectable new restaurant in prairie village
by contributing writer darren mark
Since moving to Kansas City, I’ve always been amazed that the area’s richest triangle—the one encompassing Mission Hills, Fairway and Prairie Village—lacked any semblance of a serious dining scene. Clearly, the region’s most prestigious bunch of CEOs, CFOs and CMOs want something more than BYOs, right?
Residents of this culinary black hole have, time and time again, regaled my parched eardrums with stories of the Fairway Grill, the one restaurant that brought hope to this barren, crackled land. But things are finally looking up, way up.
Café Provence, located in the shops at Prairie Village, qualifies as one participant, but it’s only one. Tavern in the Village is a newbie on the scene, as is the upcoming launch of Urban Table in Corinth Square.
But I’m here to tell you a Story, and it’s the story of a lovely lady. She was bringing up three very lovely girls. My bad. That’s another story.
This is the story of Carl Thorne-Thomsen, the chef with one of the region’s best city- centric pedigrees. He was a line cook at the Debbie Gold and Michael Smith-owned restaurant, 40 Sardines, for three years. And for the three years that followed, he was chef de cuisine for restaurants Michael Smith and Extra Virgin. When it comes to local chefs, Carl was trained by the best.
And so, during 2010, the prologue to this chef’s story concludes. Enter 2011, and the chapters unfold. This spring, Story’s inaugural menu begins chapter one.
The menu here is easy on the eyes, but there’s depth behind its breezy blonde hair and sexy physique. The smoked duck empana- das, for instance, aren’t your typical, roadside empanadas. It begins with leg meat from the duck, which is deboned, ground, braised and smoked. It finds its soul when stuffed into dough built from flour, duck fat and water. When it leaves the deep fryer, it meets the Worchestershire-balsamic sauce that lounges on the plate, and a marriage of comfort and sophistication begins.
And like everything else here, there’s a story as to how this dish came to life: “A long time ago at Michael Smith, this couple called that I knew,” says Thorne-Thomsen. “They were coming for their anni- versary, so they asked if I’d do something special. I had some smoked duck confit, and I stuffed it in a ravioli. It just seemed natural to go into an empanada.”
Like, of course it did
The fried soft shell crab relies on the quality of crab and the sim- plicity of its preparation to sell itself to palates. Here, it’s soaked in buttermilk, dredged with flour and fried. More fun than eating it on its own is dipping it in the pancetta mayo, over which it sits. Thorne- Thomsen introduced an in-house meat-curing program to Michael Smith while he was there. He carries the tradition into Story, using house-cured delicacies like pancetta to define his flavors.
The fois gras terrine was so creamy, it could have been butter: foie gras-flavored butter. But better than that, it was actual foie gras, sporting the consistency of room-temperature butter. Thorne- Thomsen credits the French Laundry as having inspired this prepa- ration. He recalls the foie there as having been “so cleaned up.” So to prepare his “cover” of Thomas Keller’s hit, Thorne-Thomsen first poaches the foie, then passes it through a chinois so as to create a mousse-like consistency. He serves it with roasted beets, almonds, bacon honey, and toasted brioche.
Rejecting etiquette, I schmeared the foie over the brioche as if it were a bagel and ate it with great appreciation for the goose that made this moment possible. Thank you, Goose. (You big stud.) Halfway through this meal at Story, I started to realize that my meal wasn’t just good; it was excellent. And here in the shadow of such great establish- ments as Waid’s, I was enjoying a meal that would pass for excellent not just in this neighborhood, but in any in Kansas City.
I loved, especially, that the kitchen didn’t force me into ordering my entrées when I ordered my appetizers. It’s all part of the casual vibe that the restaurant seeks to promote. Says Thorne-Thomsen, “I want it to be—it’s cliché—but I want it to be casual and upscale. I want to serve food made from great ingredients, but I want it be affordable enough so people don’t think of it only as a birthday place.” So his starters average between $10 and $11 dollars, while the entrées live in the mid-$20s.
Entrées like...the lamb
I eyed the lamb “crépinette” from the moment I met the menu. Ordering it was more of an automated reaction than a decision. It’s a play on crépinette, actual- ly—almost a reverse crépinette. Here, a house-made sausage of lamb, pork and red pepper puree wraps around that ultimate Tootsie Pop of a center: lamb. Sharing the stage of this entrée is an olive falafel, arti- chokes, zucchini and roasted mole. It’s an unlikely love connection in which Mexico meets the Middle East meets North Africa. But it works.
It’s the short rib croquettes that make the roasted strip steak work. The steak itself—a cut from Creekstone Farms in Ark City—is black angus. Served over a bordelaise sauce, of the food that defines this city in the eyes
it’s a winning example of tourists. But it’s the short rib croquettes that make this dish high relief. Each one, the size of a tube of lipstick, is filled with a mixture of mashed potatoes, short ribs and egg yolk. On their own, they could be a bar snack. Or an appetizer. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed as an entrée either.
I’m sure that, in the tradition of empanadas, and the foie, there’s a story behind this as well. There’s a story behind just about every dish, why it is just part of the reason that this Cornell English-major chose “Story” as the name of his restaurant.
There’s no doubt about it: Chapter One was a page-turner. I can’t wait to read more.