At Clean Slate, expect surprises and an unforgettable experienceBy Lisa Leigh Connors
A typical day for chef Jason Montigel usually starts at a local farm, such as Chatham Bars Inn, Punkhorn in Brewster or Cape Abilities in Dennis. Montigel walks around and picks beets right out of the ground and snap peas and cherry tomatoes off the vine. He’ll even bend down and help the farmer with the weeding. “I should have just been a farmer,” jokes Montigel. “It’s a pleasure to take the ingredients they are growing and make them into something they are proud of, too.”
As owner and chef of the new Clean Slate Eatery, Montigel doesn’t mind describing his new restaurant as farm-to-table. “It’s an overplayed term,” he says, “but how else can you describe it? I was literally at the farm this morning.” Many of the dishes at his restaurant are inspired by the best available ingredients. For this reason, diners will never see the same exact menu from one week to the next. Montigel emphasizes local ingredients, but stresses quality. If he can get a potato from Idaho picked out of the ground yesterday and shipped today, he will go that route.
Clean Slate, which originally started as pop-up dinners at different restaurants, is all about a fresh start for Atlanta native Montigel, who left a corporate job in the restaurant industry to start his own business. The name also has a double meaning since the menu changes from one week to the next. Just opened in May, Clean Slate has already received rave reviews on Facebook and Instagram. Several described it as “mind blowing,” so I couldn’t wait to check out this new hot spot.
As I walked into the restaurant at 6:45 p.m. on a Thursday night to meet some girlfriends—there’s typically only one seating Tuesday through Saturday—I was pleasantly surprised by the casual, modern and inviting space. Diners can sit around the L-shaped counter or at two high-top tables near the windows. The restaurant only seats up to 15 people and reservations are required. Clean Slate offers two menus, traditional and vegetarian, and diners have the option of wine pairings for an extra $30. When Montigel took over the space, formerly Norabella, he built a new counter, expanded the window looking into the kitchen, added new light fixtures and created a chalkboard wall which features the nightly menu.
Our dinner started with an oyster on a rock topped with a bed of seaweed, which all came from Crowes Pasture in Dennis. We all oohed and aahed at the presentation before eating it up in seconds. Next up was a perfectly cooked day boat scallop on top of ricotta cavatelli, spring peas, country ham, Bolognese and charred ramps (wild onions). From there, we ate our way through New England red fish with caramelized Vidalia onions and charred shishito red peppers, and a surf and turf dish with beef sourced from Northeast Family Farms paired with lobster-poached Yukon gold potatoes. In between courses, one of my girlfriends compared the experience to watching a movie as we observed Montigel, his sous chef, Bob, and chef de cuisine, Andrew, methodically plate entrees on a stainless steel table mere feet away from us.
Although the menu is written on the chalkboard, not every dish is listed. One course simply featured a small triangle-shaped fried green tomato. I devoured it in one bite. At one point, I actually thought, “Will I ever feel full?” (The answer: yes!). To top it all off, we ended the night with panna cotta with cereal milk and fruity pebble crunch, served with a cup of coffee from Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters of Brewster.
Since the restaurant is small, you can’t help but exchange conversation with other diners across the counter. On this particular night, the chatter revolved around local restaurants, artists, coffee shops and even Larry David. “Clean Slate is more about community more than anything else,” says Montigel. “It’s about people breaking bread together, forgetting the troubles of the world.”