Salvatore Calisi's Odeum is generating excitement in Morgan Hill.
Chef Salvatore Calisi no longer has stars in his eyes. Calisi was the opening chef at Dio Deka in Los Gatos, a high-style, modern Greek restaurant. His bold cooking helped spur the upscale Greek food phenomena underway in Silicon Valley.
Along the way, Calisi scored a Michelin star for his efforts, joining a small group of just three other Silicon Valley chefs to be so honored.
After Dio Deka, Calisi signed on at San Jose’s Fratello to redesign the menu and add some excitement to a staid menu of Italian-American standards. But what he really wanted to do was open his own place. And now he has done so.
Last month, Calisi opened Odeum in Morgan Hill with his partner, Ashley Polston. It is a beautiful little restaurant in a green-certified, repurposed granary just off the railroad tracks near downtown. The mid-priced place is warm and inviting and serves a blend of Italian, Greek and Spanish food that attracts a crowd of locals and visitors alike.
The dining room features sand-blasted brick walls, ladderback chairs, contemporary galvanized steel touches and thick marble counters. There’s outdoor seating, too. It feels like dining in Napa Valley—a neat trick given that it is just 20 minutes from Silicon Valley.
“Morgan Hill really needed something different, something new,” Calisi says. “Dio Deka was very good to me, and I had a great experience, but I’m doing something totally different in Morgan Hill.”
Odeum, which takes its name from a Roman and Greek meeting place for the arts, makes extensive use of its wood-fired oven and grill. Calisi imports a private label olive oil from Greece and grows much of his own produce in the restaurant’s garden and miniorchard.
“Even if I’m doing a simple dish I’m very proud of it,” he tells me.
While his menu features the kind of top-quality ingredients you’d expect at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Calisi says he’s not aiming for stars at Odeum.
“That’s not the most important thing to me,” he says. “I don’t know that it’s possible to get a Michelin star at my place.”
Michelin-starred restaurants are special occasion places where diners celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. They have sommeliers and phonebook-thick wine lists. Odeum aims to be a more approachable, everyday place.
“I want to be the kind of place where you come in three days a week for lunch and three times a week for dinner,” Calisi explains. “I have to keep in mind it’s Morgan Hill, and I don’t want to scare anyone away. I want it to be available to everyone.”
While Michelin stars are highly coveted, and Calisi freely touts his on Odeum’s website, the distinction can be a burden as much as it is blessing.
“It definitely changes the expectation,” Calisi says. “You have to be really be on top of what you’re serving. You can’t get lazy. People expect quality when you have a Michelin star.”
Unlike Dio Deka, which was backed by billionaire Stratton Sclavos, Calisi and Polston are bootstrapping Odeum themselves. “There’s no big money behind us, that’s for sure.”
Odeum has been open just over a month, so the food can be uneven as he and his kitchen staff work to get their footing. The restaurant aspires to be a casually sophisticated place where Calisi’s cooking can shine, but it’s not there yet.
But rather than pleasing restaurant critics, Calisi is out to satisfy his friends and neighbors. He lives in Morgan Hill, too.
Calisi will offer wine dinners with local winemakers. There will be displays of local artists and artist dinners. He’s even planning a “family night” on Mondays; babysitting will be available in the upstairs banquet room while parents enjoy a meal below. That’s a feature you’re not likely to find at any white tablecloth Michelin-starred restaurants.
“I’m just trying to be the best that I can be in my community,” Calisi says.