Review: Dio Deka

When it opened four years ago Dio Deka represented a new breed of Greek restaurant: modern, upscale and sexy. The Los Gatos place became an instant hit where the previous Italian restaurant in the Hotel Los Gatos failed to generate any sparks.

Dio Deka

Dio Deka at Hotel Los Gatos lifts the bar for Greek food in the valley.

When it opened four years ago Dio Deka represented a new breed of Greek restaurant: modern, upscale and sexy. The Los Gatos place became an instant hit where the previous Italian restaurant in the Hotel Los Gatos failed to generate any sparks.

The food was based on traditional Greek cuisine, but it went beyond well-known (tired?) standards like moussaka and spanikopita to take on grilled octopus, whole roasted fish, grilled lamb chops and a dessert list that had much more to offer than sticky squares of baklava.

Greek food has languished behind its Mediterranean neighbors France, Italy and Spain, but Hellenic cuisine is now enjoying its moment in the sun (too bad the same can’t be said for Greece itself). In Silicon Valley, Dio Deka and Palo Alto’s Evvia have helped lead the charge. Now, there’s Myth Taverna and Lounge in downtown San Jose with another high-end Greek place in the works nearby. Greek food has arrived in Silicon Valley.

Dio Deka hit its stride early and opening chef Salvatore Calisi bagged a Michelin star last year. He’s since left and gone on to open Odeum, a swinging-for-the-fences restaurant in his hometown of Morgan Hill.

Meanwhile, Dio Deka picked up Manresa alum Marty Cattaneo as its new chef. Cattaneo also worked at Aziza in San Francisco, and most notably, he was chef de cuisine under Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu. Cattaneo is a strong addition and has moved the restaurant deeper into the world of modern Greek cuisine, adding a few modernist tweaks here (an obscure leaf here, an orb of gel there) while still remaining true to the restaurant’s traditional roots. It’s a delicious approach to behold.

I’ll contradict myself and start off talking about moussaka ($27), that workhorse of Greek food. At Dio Deka, the casserole is served out of ramekins and made with delicately spiced ground lamb, eggplant and potatoes in a creamy, oven-crusted béchamel sauce. It’s as good as any I’ve had before.

For something less ordinary, the grilled octopus ($15) is an essential order. If you’ve never had the eight-legged creature before, this is the place to start. If you have had octopus, it’s unlikely you’ve had it better. Dio Deka’s octopus is as tender as roast chicken with a smoky, meaty flavor that’s great swabbed with the accompanying braised borage, which has been reduced to a dark-emerald sauce. The dab of Meyer lemon pudding adds a lighter note.

Another not-to-miss starter is the caramelized haloumi cheese ($14); the sheep and lamb milk cheese is like a firmer mozzarella and has a pleasing salty, savory flavor that goes great with the serving of peaches three ways: grilled, pickled and tempura-fried.

It’s not on the menu at the moment, but my favorite starter was the rapanakia salad ($12), an artful assembly of delicately dressed red and white radishes with stems still attached and chives like fallen pine needles on top.

The one disappointment I encountered was the grilled (Dio Deka likes to grill) beet and strawberry salad ($13). The strawberries were too sweet for the savory dish. Paired with the earthy beets, the strawberries delivered a discordant note that made for a clunky dish.

Service is knowledgeable and professional. And it should be. Dio Deka isn’t cheap, so you would expect a level of service to match. Service is often the weak link in Silicon Valley’s fine dining establishments, but Dio Deka has got its act together.

From the list of entrees, the mesquite grilled lamb chops ($37) are as good as ever, as is the lavraki ($35), grilled branzino (Mediterranean sea bass). Simple but especially good is the pastitsada ($27), a luxuriously rich papparelle noodle napped in a rich pork ragu with an egg draped on top for good measure. It’s available in a half order ($15) and makes a good choice for kids.

There’s a whole page dedicated to pricey steaks, but I passed them by. There are more interesting things to eat at Dio Deka than a $68 rib eye.

Desserts are one of Dio Deka’s strengths. I loved the mill-fay when I tried it four years ago, but it’s been downsized since then and that’s a good thing. It was as big as a brick and enough for four. Now it’s better suited to one. But the puff pastry and rum-flavored dessert custard ($10) is just as rich and creamy as before. The panna cotta ($13) is a winner, but the accompanying roasted strawberries made a sweet dessert too sweet.

Matt Crawford is the Director of Digital Media for Metro Newspapers. Follow him @Metro_Matt.

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