First Bite: Obika's Mozzarella Bar, or When Not In Rome
In Rome, Obika is a mozzarella bar on Piazza di Firenze, an oddly modern place not far from the Pantheon that reluctantly serves as a tourist canteen during the day and then as a frosty, rather exclusive wine bar late at night. There has always been fresh mozzarella in Rome, trucked up each morning from its motherland near Caserta in north Campania, but Obika, styled a bit like a sushi bar, was the first place to make a religion of the cheese, bringing in the until-recently rare burrata from Puglia (until recently, it was perhaps easier to find burrata in Los Angeles than on menus in Rome) as well as mozzarellas from other regions and a selection of cured meats from all over Italy. Not coincidentally, it was also the first restaurant to charge sushi-like prices for the cheese. The Roman Obika was the admitted inspiration for the mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza in Hollywood.
In Century City, the new Obika, part of a worldwide chain, occupies a sort of no-man's-land on the second level, across from a blank wall of Bloomingdale's, a speed bump on the way to the multiplex. As in Rome, the central feature of the restaurant is the line of glass tanks where globes of cheese, flown in a few times a week from Italy, float like Jeff Koons basketballs.
Ordering at Obika, whose meals tend to resemble snacks more than they do lunch or dinner, can be confusing. But as at the Roman original, you probably can figure out the drill: You order a ball of cheese, either the oozing cream-stuffed burrata, a buffalo-milk mozzarella or a slightly ashtray-tinged smoked mozzarella, and a bit of meat to go with it, perhaps a few slices of nutty-tasting prosciutto from San Daniele, some Felino salami or a smear of the spicy Calabrian sausage n'duja. (Imported n'duja has never before made it to Los Angeles.) There is a small selection of southern Italian wines by the bottle or glass. If a fried snack seems appropriate, there are mozzarella balls or mozzarella in carroza, like deep-fried sandwiches; if you feel like pasta, the twisted trofie with pesto or the fat tubes of gragnano schiaffoni with tomatoes; if dessert, the ricotta mousse with honey and pine nuts.
Still, no matter how hard you squint, no matter how tasty the Negroni in your hand, the Piazza di Firenze seems very far away.
Obika: 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., in the Century City shopping center, West
Los Angeles; (310) 55 OBIKA.
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