Quality foods, creative dishes, & an intimate dining experience
Cape Cod Life / July 2016 / Food & Dining, People & Businesses, Recreation & Activities
Writer: Stefanie Celata / Photographer: Dan Cutrona
Introducing Clean Slate Eatery of West Dennis
During a recent visit to Clean Slate Eatery, Chef Jason Montigel gave Cape Cod LIFE freelance writer Stefanie Celata and photographer Dan Cutrona the opportunity to get a taste for the restaurant as he catered to his guests.
One might describe Clean Slate Eatery in West Dennis as more of a dinner party than a restaurant—and it’s one to which all Cape Cod gastronomes would like to receive an invite.
Helmed by Chef Jason Montigel, this 16-seat, reservation-only restaurant has made quite an impact on the area food scene since opening in late April. Each night, the restaurant offers two tasting menus from which to choose: traditional, which includes meat and seafood; and vegetarian, which can also be adapted to accommodate vegan diners.
Montigel is no stranger to the Cape and Islands palate, as he worked for years as chef de cuisine at Nantucket’s Company of the Cauldron, and then as sous chef at the beautiful Ocean Terrace restaurant at Brewster’s Ocean Edge resort. Most recently Montigel, an Atlanta native who lives in Dennis, has been staging “pop-up” restaurants in private homes, which was the inspiration for Clean Slate Eatery.
The West Dennis restaurant is full of surprises. Previously home to Norabella, Clean Slate Eatery is located in a small blue-shingled building that’s reminiscent of an old Cape Cod cottage. It’s tucked away off of Route 28 behind an unassuming black and white illuminated sign. Upon entering, one is immediately taken aback by the crisp, modern interior and sharp attention to detail.
Offering seating for nine, “The Chef’s Counter” cozies right up to the lamp-lit, stainless steel finishing table—the restaurant’s center stage. The perimeter is dotted with three high-top tables allowing diners in every seat to have a perfect view of the show. With these options, the restaurant is great for dining alone, or with an intimate group of friends.
“Every single night is different,” Montigel says. “It’s like a vibe in the building; everyone gets to know each other by the end of the night, whether they came together or not.”
Once seated, the chef begins pouring the wine for the first course. Diners can select from a variety of wine, beer, or other beverages, or chose the wine pairing option, a selection of vintages curated to pair with the evening’s menu.
Each course is finished on the center table and served by the chef himself. The first dish is a West Dennis oyster served on a large seaweed-covered stone and topped with “cocktail cubes,” an homage to the sauce in every Cape Cod refrigerator. For the vegans in the group, a baby radish, hand-selected from Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis, arrives in a tiny terracotta pot, bedded in black quinoa “dirt.” An attractive presentation is clearly part of Clean Slate’s recipe.
Throughout the meal, every ingredient has a story. Montigel chats with each of his guests, discussing the background behind the ingredients and their origins. After all, “food,” Montigel says, “is about community.” Although sourcing locally is extremely important to the chef, he says when he does source outside the region it’s imperative the ingredients be traceable from farms that honor exemplary farming practices. Montigel says he must know everything about each farm, including how the ingredients are grown or fed, or where they came from.
Although Montigel posts the Clean Slate menu a few days before it goes live, there are many treats that are introduced along the dining journey. A warm Kings Hawaiian roll arrives fresh out of the oven with a spread that can hardly be called butter. To create this magical, palate-stimulating spread, the chef infuses maple and citric acid into butter. This is just one of the off-menu surprises.
The meal’s first official course is a chicken-fried lobster, lightly battered with a light gravy made from Benton’s Smoked Country Ham, a clear Cape Cod nod to the chef’s Southern roots. The dish offers a menagerie of flavors including black pepper and fresh herbs. As the guests begin to indulge, diners call out accolades to the chef. One Centerville resident, Michael Murphy, summed up the sentiment: “This is crazy good!”
Following in succession, the next course features fiddleheads foraged in Hadley, Mass. alongside Anson Mills’ Carolina rice “grits” and Cape Cod spring garlic, and other aromatics. Montigel takes the slow-food movement down to the plates as he had them specially made for the restaurant from the artisans of Scargo Pottery in Dennis. The ceramic pieces are finished with a glaze of Cape Cod black sand.
The chef and his team of two then surround the center table to plate a succulent piece of East Coast halibut with Zatarain’s spices and minted yogurt with braised young carrots.
During the chatter and open discussion, one of the guests, Hyannis restaurant-owner Christian Boutiette, offered his compliments to the chef. “Just build the perfect bite,” Boutiette says, “and boom—your mind is blown.” When presented with one of Montigel’s palate cleansing cocktail “bursts,” developed with the chef’s molecular gastronomy techniques, diner Ted Komenda, a Centerville realtor, also chimed in. “He is like a mad scientist,” Komenda says with a smile.
The next dish served is a Northeast Family Farms-raised steak, which has undergone a 48-hour sous-vide process—a technically challenging cooking method where a low-temperature water bath is used to cook food evenly without overcooking the outside, creating a mouth-watering tenderness. Montigel and his team plate the beef with a Vermont bacon jam, barbecue consommé, and pickled ramps. “It makes me mad at every other steak I have ever had,” says photographer Dan Cutrona—a comment that elicited cheers of agreement across the room.
Next to greet the palate is the following juxtaposition of flavors: a plate of blue cheese from Great Hill Dairy in Marion, and an unusual accompaniment of “noodles” made of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The dish again highlighted the chef’s ability to create unusual and tasty concoctions from otherwise ordinary ingredients.
The final course of the night brought lavender-almond ice cream alongside the chef’s own backyard rhubarb, and served with a cup of Snowy Owl Coffee. Montigel says he decided to partner with Snowy Owl, a small batch coffee roaster in Brewster, not only because of the company’s high-quality products, but also because of its organic and environmental stewardship.
By the end of the evening the guests are chatting with one another, moving around the room to discuss the meal as if they just saw the latest summer blockbuster. “Can you believe it when . . . ”, “How amazing was it that . . . ” , “ I’m usually so picky, but . . . ”, are the beginnings of some of the diners’ conversations.
Offering a unique farm-to-table experience, Clean Slate Eatery is located at 702 Route 28 in West Dennis. New menus are posted weekly, and reservations are required as seating is limited. For more information, visit cleanslateeatery.com, or call 508-292-8817.
A resident of Cotuit, Stefanie Celata is a freelance writer and a fine wine and spirits representative for Baystate Wine & Spirits.