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January 3-9, 2007

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saganaki and ahi

Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Dio Rocks: Saganaki (left) and ahi are two of Dio Deka's offerings.

Greek Chic

Dio Deka is the newest upscale spot to bring the best of Greek cooking to Silicon Valley

By Stett Holbrook

GIVEN the popularity of the sunny, hearty flavors of the Mediterranean, it's curious that Greek food doesn't have more of a hold on American appetites. The public's knowledge of the cuisine doesn't extend much beyond gyros, dolmas and feta cheese. But that's changing, thanks to a small number of excellent Greek restaurants in the Bay Area.

Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco, sister restaurant Evvia in Palo Alto and Thea in San Jose make up the short list of restaurants that showcase a wider repertoire of Hellenic cuisine. And now there's Dio Deka, an instantly popular new Los Gatos restaurant that's doing its part to elevate Greek food in Silicon Valley.

Dio Deka, which means "210" in Greek (210 is the restaurant's address on East Main Street), is a joint venture between a contingent of five ex-Evvia staffers, chef Salvatore Calisi and investor Stratton Sclavos. Sclavos is president and CEO of tech titan VeriSign in Mountain View and a co-owner of the San Jose Sharks.

The restaurant moved into the space vacated by Kuleto's in the Hotel Los Gatos complex. It's a beautiful, dark-yet-inviting space warmed by an open kitchen, a big fireplace and a beckoning bar. The delicious aromas of rosemary and meat grilling over mesquite perfume the air while wine racks lit by thin blue light add a note of cool sophistication.

New York-born Calisi moved here with his family to open Dio Deka after working in top Manhattan restaurants such as Aureole, Veritas and Union Pacific. At Dio Deka, his plates show off a flashy, artfully composed style that can dazzle without going overboard.

There's much to recommend. Most starters are large so they're best shared. Order the mithia me loukaniko ($12), however, and you may find yourself hoarding the bowl of excellent steamed mussels and spicy sausage. Bathed in a smoky, tomatoey, ouzo-splashed broth accented with fennel and lemon, it's delicious. Garides zea ($16) is another winner for seafood lovers. A big, blue prawn split down the middle, it is baked with bread crumbs, garlic and herbs. As good as the prawn is, it's the rosemary-scented gigantes beans, tangy feta and tomato that make the dish.

Dolmathakias ($9), the well-known stuffed grape leaves, are anything but ordinary. Made with Metaxa brandy-braised short ribs and wonderfully creamy rice, the tidy rolls are topped with a truffle-scented (however faintly) mushroom citrus foam.

The saganaki ($10), pan-fried kefalograviera cheese, fell flat. The cheese wasn't sufficiently molten and quickly cooled into an unremarkable block. And the horiatiki ($8), the classic Greek salad, would have been better if it weren't drowned in vinaigrette.

From the list of entrees, lamb dishes are standouts. The succulent, herb-crusted paithakia ($30) were the best lamb chops I've had in recent memory, and I loved the hearty arni youvestri ($21), slow-roasted lamb shoulder with orzo, garlic confit, olives and shaved myzitthra cheese.

Moussaka ($22) is another Greek standard, but it's never been as good as this. Instead of ground beef, the potato and eggplant casserole is made with braised beef cheeks, the most tender and rich meat known to man. Layered with zucchini and a luxurious béchamel sauce (and did I detect nutmeg or cinnamon?), it's like tasting the dish for the first time.

In contrast to the complex and multilayered moussaka, the lavraki ($32), mesquite-grilled whole branzino, exemplifies the beauty of a few simple ingredients expertly prepared.

The one entree that let me down was the astako-makarontha ($38). While it did feature Maine lobster (a small one, with claws removed) in a rich garlic and tomato sauce over linguini, I expected more from such a pricey plate.

If Americans aren't on a first-name basis with many Greek dishes, they're complete strangers when it comes to Greek wines. That's understandable, considering how little of the good stuff is available here. Thankfully, Dio Deka features several excellent brands. From the list of wines by the glass, don't miss the cabernet sauvignon-like agiorgitiko by Haflaftis ($11) and the lively assyrtiko by Hatziyiannis ($8), a great white wine reminiscent of a stony sancerre.

Dio Deka ends on a strong note with dessert. If you order nothing else, go for the millf»e ($12). The dessert is the size and dimensions of a lunch box, a lunch box made of the thinnest, crispest puff pastry and caramelized almonds that conceal a treasure of rum-jacked pastry cream. This dessert easily feeds four. Another winner is the yiaourti ($9), fantastically creamy yogurt topped with honey-glazed fruit and toasted macadamia nuts served in a lacy pastry basket. The dessert is underdescribed on the menu and you might pass it up. Don't.

Dio Deka

Address: 210 E. Main St., Los Gatos.

Phone: 408.354.7700.

Hours: 5-10pm daily.

Cuisine: Greek.

Price Range: $22-$45.

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