Mithia — mussels steamed in licoric-ey ouzo with olives and toast — are a worthy starter.
(This review appeared in South Bay Accent in January, 2008.)
Adding more delicious fuel to Los Gatos’ standing as the sizzling restaurant town of south county is perennially packed Dio Deka. Taking over the spot in the lovely Hotel Los Gatos formerly occupied by Kuleto’s, this darkly elegant, expansive, classy spot combines addictively delicious Greek food with welcoming, skilled service. The only downside is off-the-chart decibels. Even at 10:45 at night on a recent Saturday with the crowd starting to thin, the wall of noise was still daunting. But this seems to be a feature rather than a bug to the stylish set that flocks to the restaurant.
Dio Deka shares tasty DNA of a sort with the region’s other two heralded Greek establishments. Palo Alto’s Evvia has topped the charts for this cuisine for years, eventually begetting Kokkari Estiatoria in San Francisco, with both destinations showing the public how wonderful Hellenic food can be. The opulent Los Gatos über-taverna realized a long-time dream of five Greek former Evvia staffers to open their own place. Funding came from Greek-American Stratton Sclavos, a former software CEO and co-owner of the San Jose Sharks.
Why Greek food isn’t as ubiquitous here as other Mediterranean cuisines – with which it shares many key elements – is puzzling. Chef Salvatore Calisi — that’s right, he’s Italian, not Greek – is helping get the word out with his mouth-filling, lusty dishes, which are focused on bold flavors and skilled execution. Calisi uses his background in several top New York restaurants to good effect at Dio Deka, reinventing Greek cuisine without departing from it.
(Note: talented Italian-American chef Marty Cattaneo replaced Calisi in early 2011. Dio Deka earned a Michelin star that is in do danger of being removed under the new chef.)
Take the Kolokythakia starter, for instance. I dare you to leave a smidgen on your plate of the irresistible zucchini and eggplant chips tossed with oregano, which are used to scoop up a heavenly, creamy spread bursting with lemon, garlic and dill. Or the meaty, smoky, grilled octopus chunks tossed with citrusy olive oil, herbs and microgreens.
Calisi moves Greek classics into another realm via excellent ingredients, modern cooking methods and creativity. His Spanakotiropita delivers the unbeatable combo of flaky filo pastry encasing cheeses and spinach, but he adds more vegetables and more types of cheese to this well-known recipe and bakes it in the wood oven.
Rapidly becoming a signature dish is his Keftethakia, flavorful teensy lamb meatballs skewered with rosemary and lavished with a rich, cheesy yogurt sauce. His take on dolmas involves brandy-braised meat from short ribs blended with creamy rice and wrapped in grape leaves, then finished with truffle-scented wild mushroom foam.
Another too-often-seen Greek classic is given the upscale Calisi touch when avgolemono soup – the lemon-egg-rice broth synonymous with this cuisine – is perked up with chunks of lobster and toothy little orzo in a flavorful, tart lemon-egg fumet, all topped with white truffle foam. Wisely, the chef leaves the classic Greek salad unembellished, letting first-rate ingredients – excellent tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, Epirus feta and red onion in a vinaigrette – speak for themselves.
Although a meal made out of just the great starters would be delightful, many of the main courses are noteworthy. Not surprisingly, lamb rules at Dio Deka. But this isn’t any old lamb, but rather deeply tasty, tender meat from Australia. The Paithakia – grilled lamb chops – fly out of the kitchen all night in huge volume. And they should – three huge, herb-seasoned, frenched chops are perfection, served with potato wedges, spinach and a lemon half.
Beef lovers aren’t ignored, with a pair of huge steaks beckoning to serious carnivores. But Calisi also does a superb job with seafood, such as a delightfully moist, grilled Branzino (seabass) accented with herbs, Swiss chard and lemon.
Unusual and unusually good is a tuna concoction in which the fish is crusted, seared, painted with carrot puree and served with quinoa salad and stewed baby eggplant. All the many yummy entrée choices have lots of great company in a first-rate wine list that includes many worthy new-age Greek wines. An outstanding — and cheap — choice are the aromatic white wines from the island of Santorini.
Unfortunately, the enormous portions can easily rule out dessert. Therefore, put two of your three big lamb chops in a doggie bag (believe me, they’re even divine when reheated at home) so you and your companions (it easily serves four) can try the “mill-fay.” These decadent layers of puff pastry, pastry cream and toasted almonds have become the insider’s dessert choice. Just as Dio Deka has become the new hotspot of the South Bay.
Dio Deka, 210 E. Main St., Los Gatos, (408) 354-7700; http://www.diodeka.com
HOURS: Lunch, weekdays, 11:30-2 p.m. Dinner, Monday to Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9 p.m.. Reservations strongly recommended.
PRICES: Starters, $6-16; entrees, $19-68; desserts, $8-12.