My, how shopping centers are growing up! Remember when Spielberg launched a silly submarine-themed restaurant at the Century City shopping mall in the days before it added Westfield to its name? Now as part of a timely nip 'n' tuck, the mall has added a second-story dining terrace with outdoor tables and a view of Century City skyscrapers. The latest tenant? Obikà Mozzarella Bar, by way of Rome and Milan and 11 other locations in five countries.
Sleek and urban, Obikà feels like a contemporary caffè in any big Italian city — except where the brioche and pastries would usually be displayed, balls of bufala mozzarella bob in their milky liquid. Flown in from Italy three times a week, the mozzarella is, on average, 48 hours old. Freshness is paramount for the familiar cheese from the Campania region and its capital, Naples, where mozzarella is practically a religion.
At Obikà, mozzarella lovers can try the dégustazione for two, a platter with a ball each of bufala and smoked mozzarella, plus some creamy fresh burrata. When is the last time you were lucky enough to eat your fill of bufala? Probably never. But you can do it here. Add in a tasting of salumi, perhaps the rustic Felino salame, pistachio-studded mortadella and, for a supplement of $3, culatello, the prized, cured heart of the ham from the Parma region.
Only problem, the bread is flat-out terrible, squishy as Wonder Bread. And that was from the fourth purveyor the restaurant had tried out. If a solution isn't found, those who care may have to resort to bringing their own bread.
The menu isn't all cheese, just mostly. Antipasti include fritti, a collection of vegetables and — what else? — mozzarella rolled in fine breadcrumbs and fried, ready to dip in a fiery tomato sauce. There's quite a good version of caponata as well, which comes with Sardinian carta di musica, a thin cracker-like bread.
Skip the Calabrian sausage paste spread on soggy bread. But do order a pasta, such as the Gragnano Schiaffoni pasta in a lovely loose tomato sauce, with dabs of mozzarella on top. Or the ravioli stuffed with spinach and fresh ricotta.
You can also stop in for a pick-me-up of ricotta mousse with pine nuts and honey. Somehow I suspect I'm going to be finding excuses to shop at the mall — and I'm someone who hates shopping.
Such is the power of mozzarella.
Obikà Mozzarella Bar
Where: Westfield Century City shopping center, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 206, L.A.
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Aperitivo hour daily from 4:40 to 6:30 p.m.
Cost: Antipasti, $7 to $12; salads, $8 to $16; pane cunzato (open-faced sandwiches), $14 to $15; main courses, $14 to $18; mozzarella tasting for two, $27; for four, $58; salumi selection, $9 to $18.
Info: (310) 55-OBIKA or (310) 556-2452; www.obikala.com.