This Story unfolds in a dining room with bare white walls.
Frosted, silvery glass acoustic tiles and wall dividers highlight the 66-seat minimalist and monochromatic space. There was not a hint of color save for the single flower in a bud vase, until I ordered a vivid English pea soup served in a white bowl.
Thanks to social media, expectant diners could follow the restaurant’s emerging story line on Facebook long before the doors opened in the Prairie Village shopping center. It’s an odd location for such a swank, contemporary American restaurant, so one night as Carl Thorne-Thomsen, the lanky, shy chef, made the rounds in the dining room, I asked him how he came to choose his location.
He told me he imagined that one day he’d open a restaurant in Leawood, but his wife, Susan, who worked at a gourmet foods store in Wichita and now greets customers at the door, persuaded him to consider less expensive real estate.
The restaurant’s website outlines how the chef was an English lit grad and former fiction writer/playwright. He was seduced by the culinary arts while working on a master’s in creative writing in Wichita. He made his way to Kansas City and worked at 40 Sardines and as chef de cuisine at Michael Smith’s and Extra Virgin.
Truth is, I’d never heard of Thorne-Thomsen before dining at Story. But my oversight matters less than the fact that this self-trained entrepreneur is one of an emerging second wave of chefs worth keeping an eye on as they step out of the shadows to write the next chapter in Kansas City dining.
Consider Alex Pope, formerly of the R Bar, who trained with Debbie Gold; or Patrick Ryan, owner of Port Fonda/El Comedor, who worked (and still works) with Howard Hanna. Or Hanna, who was out of plain sight as chef at the River Club and is now in the spotlight at the Rieger Hotel Grill Exchange. To the casual diner, one day they’re toiling mostly anonymously behind the scenes.
Then, if we’re lucky, they get an opportunity to develop their own style.
Thorne-Thomsen’s style is intricate and highly composed, drawing all eyes to the plate. And with good reason. Every time I dined at Story, I found something that made me stop, close my eyes and savor that little shiver that emanates down the spine when a dish is truly noteworthy. Like the rich roasted molé served with the smoked duck empanadas.
That’s not to say there was never a misstep from the kitchen. Sadly, the pea soup was absolutely stunning to look at but bland, like eating color without flavor. The edges of the chicken tortellini cooked in broth were nevertheless dried out. I could forgive these oversights as opening jitters.
Service was competent but a bit uneven until one night I had a waiter named Tom so adept at color commentary that he made the menu come alive. For instance, he explained the chef’s twist on the Caesar meant no anchovies but instead tuna emulsified into the dressing for a more subtly twangy flavor.
Tom suggested exceptional appetizers, including the tuna tartare, a delicate mound of fish cut by the slightly salty flavor of American sturgeon caviar, with fingerling chips that finished the plate. He also recommended the foie gras terrine, a preparation he described as "silky" and served with toasted brioche. A bonus: All breads, including focaccia, batards and hamburger buns, are made in-house.
Our server explained the origins of the ingredients and relished explaining the details of the chef’s signature entrée, a Mediterranean-infused lamb crepinette, or a lamb tenderloin and sausage roulade cooked at low temperatures using sous vide, the trendy culinary technique of the moment, a preparation that rendered the meat meltingly tender.
In my book, short ribs are an odd choice for a seasonally based summer menu, but they were delicious nonetheless when served with dainty pillows of tiny gnocchi that melted on the tongue. Another interesting and successful pairing included Campo Lindo chicken and shrimp with green beans. At first I thought it was an odd combination, but then I thought about all the Chinese-American meals that combine both meats with vegetables.
The desserts, also made in-house, range from elegant doughnut holes with salted caramel to a deconstructed German chocolate cake. The sorbets -- a raspberry, peach and leche merengada -- were a favorite at our table. If you’re not a sweets person, a cheese plate paired with port, Madeira or sherry offers a surprise ending.