I spend a lot of my time talking to chefs. Whether it’s at work or for work, my day-to-day talks are centered around food — ways to cook it, serve it, eat it. During a visit to The Sweet Life Cafe, I was especially excited to sit down and chat with chef Carlos Montoya, who is back at Sweet Life after a short stint at the Edgartown Yacht Club. Chef Montoya’s passion for food is inspiring, and so is his new summer menu.
Sweet Katama oysters with cucumber mignoneitte. —Marnely Murray
“As always, our focus is on local and seasonal, because that’s the way I love to cook,” Chef Montoya, a Columbia native, told me. “We use ingredients from all over the Island, including The Good Farm, Menemsha Fish Market, North Tabor Farm, Morning Glory Farm, among others. It’s important to me, that connection to food and those that grow and harvest it.”
I agree as I slurp back my amuse-bouche of local sweet Katama oysters with a refreshing cucumber mignonette. Could there be anything more revitalizing than the combination of oysters and cucumbers? It screams summer to me.
Roasted eggplant mezzaluna with marinated tomatoes, lemon basil and feta. —Marnely Murray
You’ll notice an entire section on the menu dedicated to pastas. From a non-Italian chef, this isn’t very common. Chef Montoya explains that his love for pasta grew this past winter as he read cookbooks like “Flour + Water” by Thomas McNaughton. Chef Montoya changes the pasta creations depending upon what’s in season and available, like the Roasted Eggplant Mezzaluna ($17) and Squid Ink Cavatelli with Shrimp, Chorizo, and Lobster Essence ($19). As the mezzalunas float in a tomato-water broth, the cavatelli features a sauce with chorizo and shrimp that sticks to its grooves and edges.
Adding a pasta course did not deter me from ordering appetizers. The Pulpo a la Plancha ($17) is tender octopus tentacles served with purple Peruvian potatoes and romesco sauce. Craving a real deal crab cake? Chef Montoya serves his ($18) with a tarragon oil, which pairs exceptionally well with the sweet crab meat.
Seared NY steak strip, broccoli puree and florets, red wine reduction. —Marnely Murray
What differentiates Chef Montoya from other Island chefs is the creativity and playfulness in his entree dishes. The Seared NY Steak is served with duck fat roasted new potatoes, cipollini onions, broccoli florets, and a red wine reduction you’ll want to lick off the plate. The Seared Sea Scallops ($35) are a piece of artwork: stuffed zucchini blossoms, leek fondue, and a lobster beurre blanc make it a decadent dish that will leave you feeling light yet satisfied. The crispy exterior of the squash blossoms break away to the creamy potato filling, while the melted leeks swirled with the lobster-infused butter sauce.
End the night with desserts by pastry chef Francis Leonardo. The Key Lime pie with fresh whipped cream was just as summery and refreshing as the start of the meal.
For reservations at the Sweet Life Cafe, call 508-696-0200. It’s located on 63 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, serving dinner nightly in season, starting at 5:30 pm. For more information, visit sweetlifemv.com.