Published by South Bay Accent in December, 2015.
South Bay diners are increasingly gravitating toward a modern, kicked-back style of restaurant in which the vibe is casual but the food is fresh and inventive while still being moderately priced, as seen in newer outposts like Orchard City Kitchen, The Table and 31st Union. Such spots will likely offer exciting craft cocktails and have a staff of never-obsequious young servers. Often not taking reservations, these popular boîtes are noisy, friendly and packed full of happy, jeans-clad diners who don’t mind the long waits and the purposeful decibels.
Checking all these boxes and more is crowd-pleasing Lexington House in Los Gatos, a two-year-old establishment that takes the concept of a fashionable watering hole to a new level via the exciting, produce-centric cuisine of Silicon Valley-raised Philippe Breneman. Not only does he use local growers, but the restaurant has its own farm in nearby Santa Cruz.
Unless your favorite dining hour is super early or super late, getting a seat is a lengthy affair due to the popularity of “the Lex,” as the owners call it. Most patrons grab a spot on the diminutive patio in front (if they can) and while they wait, savor one of the house’s fantastic cocktails, featuring small-batch spirits and fine ingredients. Drinks-only visitors try to snag a stool at the handsome bar along one side of the open-plan interior, which is backed by a massive, brick-faced window showing off colorful bottles of booze.
A little sliver of a bar-restaurant, the Lex could easily fill itself up if it were twice the size but Breneman’s food is so superb that the waits are worth it. His petite, ever-changing menu chases the seasons, which pains the many visitors who fall in love with many dishes of the day. Just deal with it; this is the place to be adventurous rather than seeking out the familiar.
This focus on small bites of new things — portions aren’t huge here — is perfectly demonstrated in the addictive house-made breads, which come just one piece per person. Naturally, there have been many howls over that strategy among the carb obsessed. Kalamata olive pain d’epi, bacon and chive biscuits, killer brioche, green onion popovers — the bread offerings keep changing, deliciously so.
There are many new flavor experiences to enjoy at the Lex, such as a recent starter of tomato salad that takes the norm into new realms via lemon and sweet, barely cured Sicilian olives. The chef hits it way out of the park with another starter of roasted baby beets unconventionally paired with pickled, seared and raw stone fruit punctuated by lush tahini vinaigrette and a whisper of tarragon. Or the surprising combo of flavorful matsutake mushrooms, roasted yam and peanut crumble. Breneman is skilled at contrasting tastes and textures while increasing deliciousness.
As with the starters, the entree list is short but delectable. The priciest dish (at $48) can easily serve two — if one can fend off demands for bites from others — and has to be one of the finest cow choices in the region. A huge, juicy, milk-fed veal t-bone is seared just right, with a lemony piccata sauce adding complexity to the lush meat. Half a chicken is a frequently appearing item — a divine bird from a local coastal farm — cooked sous vide so it’s incredibly moist. The chef rotates the accompaniments to keep things interesting.
Fish is done with care, like snowy Alaskan halibut roasted in paper or frito misto (Italian batter-fried whatever) of local squid with padron peppers, French beans and baby fennel featuring one of the airiest, non-greasy coatings ever. Other seafood like salmon, albacore and scallops have shown up and been elevated through Breneman’s skill.
Like the rest of the menu, the Lilliputian pair of dessert offerings changes constantly but rest assured they will be yummy and unconventional. No crème brulée here. Recently, a dark chocolate and fresh fig galette with fig sorbet and aged balsamic was absolutely spectacular.
Mellow servers gamely try to keep up with the throngs of guests but this is the wrong place to expect pampering or quiet romantic interludes. Or lingering; the overflow of guests waiting for a table who missed getting a seat on the little front patio can huddle near the front and jealously eyeball diners who’ve completed their meal.
Bartending whizzes and Lex partners Jimmy Marino and Stephen Shelton, who have worked at other hyper-popular watering holes, envisioned their spot as a comfortable gathering place where the attitude is breezy and the dress code nonexistent but the food and drink first class. Along with partner Breneman, they’ve succeeded in spades.
The good news is that this trio will be opening a new restaurant-bar in Willow Glen called Black Sheep Brasserie deploying the same winning formula, giving South Bay residents even more places to dine à la 2015.
Lexington House, 40 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, (408) 354-1600; http://www.thelexlg.com
HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10; Friday-Saturday, 5-10:30. Reservations only for parties of six or more.
PRICES: Starters: $13-18; entrees: $17-48; desserts: $12.