Thanks to Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, it’s tough to imagine a time when mozzarella wasn’t a central part of L.A.’s food lexicon. Mozza, particularly Osteria Mozza, has taken mozzarella to new heights in terms of gastro-consciousness, but without Obikà, Mozza may never have opened. Silverton visited the original Rome mozzarella bar, which opened in 2004, and was inspired to launch her own mozzarella-centric concept in Los Angeles. Now Obikà has joined her in L.A., opening their second U.S. branch in the Century City mall.
Silvio Ursini, who was raised in Naples, now owns 14 branches of Obikà worldwide, in cities like London, New York and Kuwait. He and Raimondo Boggia, president and CEO of B Ventures USA, were in Century City yesterday to celebrate the opening, to share mozzarella-filled plates with media types (myself included), and to discuss their concept.
“Los Angeles and California in general, because of the climate and love of fresh food, is the most interesting market worldwide,” says Ursini, who plans to open another Obikà at Beverly Center by the end of 2010. They have freestanding locations, but Ursini believes the “concept lends itself particularly well to high traffic, high quality locations. It’s not only the high volume of people, it’s also fulfilling a need…fresh, light, entertaining.”
In Naples, mozzarella is practically gospel. Ursini was inspired by the “special treat” and decided to “take mozzarella and make it the centerpiece of a contemporary, light lunch.” Chef Simone Santopietro is a longtime Obikà veteran and moved Stateside to make sure the L.A. locations enjoy the same level of consistency. Ursini said it’s important to showcase “true Italian flavor.” To accomplish this aim, they banned garlic and onion, allowing “pure and simple” flavors of cheese and sauce to shine through. Ursini believes that all too often, garlic and onion can mask imperfections. With this approach, Obikà has no way to hide.
At yesterday’s preview, Obikà began with The Grand Experience, delivering a plate of cheese, including creamy Stracciatella di Burrata, ricotta, Mozzarella Classica and Mozzarella Affumicata (smoked). Obikà flies in their Mozzarella di Bufala three times a week from Italy.
Obikà accompanies their mozzarella “experience” with cured meats like sweet Prosciutto San Daniele, Smoked Speck and Culatello, which Obikà’s manager described as “filet mignon of the pig.” Mozzarella also factors into mozzarella spirals (rotoli) rolled with oven-roasted ham and radicchio, bresaola and arugula, and smoked wild Alaskan salmon with arugula. They also showcased breaded and fried mozzarella balls, fried mozzarella sandwiches, Ligurian trofie pasta with basil pesto and Cunzato Bread, crispy ciabatta slathered with spreadable Calabrian sausage (Nduja), cherry tomatoes, basil, capers and ricotta salata. Cheese even factors into desserts, including ricotta mousse with honey, orange zest and pine nuts; and tiramisu. Obikà has a liquor license, drawing from their wine wall and full bar.
Obikà features black floors, a glass front and plenty of patio seating that overlooks mallgoers. If you’d like to learn, blackboards and placemats educate diners about the provenance of ingredients.
Obikà translates from Italian as “Here it is, look at it!,” but Ursini and Boggia are counting on more than just observation to succeed on the West Coast.