Walking into Story creates a bit of a culture shock. The decor is much more akin to New York than Prairie Village, but in my book that’s a good thing. It’s just not what you expect to find in a suburban shopping center. Quite sleek, it’s devoid of color. White walls contrast with simple gray and black accents. It harkens back to the ’80s when everything was white, before people decided adding color to the equation was a warmer way to go. It became tiresome, but this is now a refreshing look, especially since the modern lines are so appealing.
Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen and his wife Susan recently opened Story after Carl’s seven-year stint under Chef Michael Smith, first at 40 Sardines and then at Michael Smith restaurant. The name comes from three layers of stories that comprise a restaurant–the owners’ story, where they came from, what led them to open the restaurant; the diner’s story; and the food’s story and where it came from. As with most new restaurants today, the emphasis is on farm-to-table, fresh and seasonal, all of which (including the story behind the name, Story) was explained by our very competent server, Tom.
I loved the variety of seasonal produce, which the night we were there focused on fava beans and mint. I succumbed to the soft shell crab because it has such a short season. The crustacean was perfectly crisp and not at all oily, though the pancetta mayo was a bit bland and could have used more punch. The octopus appetizer was also the picture of perfection. Though I prefer mine grilled rather than braised to enhance the flavor, this was cooked just right. It wasn’t rubbery or tough, and that’s a feat in itself. Its pairing with those same fava beans and potatoes was masterful.
The ravioli with morels was amazing. Despite being finished with a butter sauce, it was quite light and every bite melted in my mouth. The tile fish in prosciutto broth was fine, but not memorable or extraordinary. The description on the menu alluded to a crab fritter, but it reminded me more of a pancake. Our server had recommended it over the halibut or trout, but I’d be inclined to go for the trout next time, prepared for the moment with mushrooms, spinach, mashed potatoes and lemon-jalapeno vinaigrette.
Desserts were a marvel. The chocolate mousse is a misnomer–it was more like a sensuous and decadent Kit Kat bar. Likewise the lemon bar bore no resemblance to the bake sale variety. It was tart and sweet without being sugary, and was appointed with dots of blueberry puree.
The bread was awesome. Made in-house, each slice had a chewy crust and airy inside. The foccacia was nice, but not as compelling as the slices of batard, served with French style butter. However, don’t expect to sample it at lunch. Our server sheepishly told me that bread is only available as an appetizer, with prosciutto, olives and olive oil for a whopping $8. Those wanting a piece of bread to mop up soup or sauce are out of luck. I know making bread is a labor-intensive process, but when lunch costs more than $20 a person, I really think bread ought to be included as part of the meal.
No complaints about the actual lunch, though.We sampled both the vibrant green asparagus soup dotted with pistachio oil, and an unusual pea soup with salsa verde and meatballs. I was expecting another bright green puree, but this was brothy, with cooked peas and other vegetables in the mix. It tasted Thai to me, perhaps from the flavors in the salsa verde, but in any case, it was tasty. I also had the fluke ceviche with pine nuts, celery and cilantro. Very light and delicate.
The fried chicken thigh with fava bean succotash may not have been light; nor did it resemble what you’d get at Stroud’s. Crisp, tender and not at oily (remember that soft shell crab? Thorne-Thomsen knows a thing or two about frying), it was a thing of beauty. As is every dish that comes out of the kitchen. Presentation is a huge part of the overall experience. I suspect Thorne-Thomsen is a perfectionist, and it shows.
A trip to Story is not an inexpensive venture. But the menu is devised to allow diners to order a couple of nice sized appetizers and still enjoy a lovely evening. Lunch is a bit of a commitment and focuses more on real entrees than what Ladies-Who-Lunch may prefer. The only salads on the menu are of the side variety, not substantial enough to order as a meal. A mid-day menu is also available with a combination of some items that appear on the mealtime menus, as well as a few that are strictly available from 2-5 pm, including some awesome looking French fries. Not a bad way to while away a couple of hours at the bar or on the patio, at a easy-on-the-wallet price point.
Though Story may not be an everyday destination, it’s a coup for Prairie Village to have a restaurant of this caliber in its zip code.