Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen displays a whole fluke that nearly covers a cutting board in his kitchen at Story (3931 W 69th Terrace, Prairie Village). The marine flat fish with grey skin and two eyes facing up on the same side is also known as summer flounder. Chef Thorne-Thomsen uses sashimi-grade fluke from the coast of Rhode Island in a ceviche on his current menu.
“It’s a lean, mild fish,” Thorne-Thomsen says. “I prepare it crudo-style using lime juice as acid.”
Lime juice is combined with serrano pepper puree and then strained to yield a spicy marinade. The ceviche is assembled with finely diced apple, tomatillo, and jalapeno and topped with fried carrot shavings and finger lime “caviar” or cells from the pulp.
The finished dish is a refined presentation of ceviche, an item that has appeared in different forms since Story opened. Savory notes of pepper and citrus brighten the light, delicate dish. Carrot shavings contribute earthy sweetness and texture.
Another dish on the menu uses stracciatella cheese paired with sliced beets, smoked walleye, fried capers and apples in a dill-mustard vinaigrette.
“Stracciatella cheese is the creamy filling of burrata,” Thorne-Thomsen says. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made with an outer shell of soft mozzarella in a bun shape filled with cream. “Stracciatella is mozzarella curd mixed with cream. It is also used in an Italian soup like egg drop soup, where the cheese is stringy like ribbons. It adds weight and depth to the soup.”
The mild cheese adds subtle flavor and creaminess that underscores the robust beet and faint smokiness of the walleye tossed in vinaigrette. Fried capers add a hint of saltiness and crisp counterpoint.
Thorne-Thomsen decided that the dish called for a freshwater fish like walleye when developing it. He says, “It is common to the Great Upper Midwest. It doesn’t dry out and the texture is like snapper.”
A third dish on the menu uses monkfish, another Atlantic species referred to as poor man’s lobster for its meaty white flesh and light flavor. Thorne-Thomsen prepares a blackened monkfish that creates a layer of savory flavor. The fish is served with a sunchoke puree, celeriac (celery root), leaves of brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash, and a sauce of chicken stock flavored with smoked ham hock. The dish unites elements of land and sea with a fall/winter character.
“We take spaghetti squash strands and create a cake,” says Thorne-Thomsen. “The strands have an al dente texture when cooked.”
To prepare the thin, flat cake, Thorne-Thomsen roasts the squash, mixes the strands with egg and flour, press the mixture into shape, freezes it, cuts it into portions, and sautes it to order.
In all three dishes, Thorne-Thomsen demonstrates heightened skill at using modest ingredients to create interesting dishes. Each dish offers familiar flavors in fresh combinations, using basic components in novel ways with a lively balance of flavor, texture, and presentation. The details behind the use of as fluke, stracciatella cheese, monkfish, finger lime cells, and spaghetti squash reveal a story worth exploring through the senses.