Obicà is a restaurant chain with fashionable roots and an emphasis on ingredient sourcing.
Silvio Ursini, executive vice president of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, founded the concept in Rome in 2004. Ursini, who at the time was creative director for the luxury brand, was inspired by the simple, clean presentation he observed at the sushi bars he frequented during trips to Japan. He decided to adopt a similar approach and apply it to a culinary staple closer to home: buffalo mozzarella.
“The core of the idea hasn’t changed much since then,” Ursini says from Rome. “It’s about choosing and picking the best ingredients from Italy, and fresh ones locally, and putting them together with no tricks. Ultimately, this is the essence of Italian cuisine.”
The company’s New York flagship, and 20th overall location, opened Wednesday in the Flatiron District and complements a smaller grab-and-go kiosk in the IBM building on Madison Avenue. The name (which the group modified from its original “Obika” so as to more clearly define its Italian link) translates to “here it is.” The restaurant’s philosophy is centered around a slow-food mentality and sources ingredients from where they’re done best — whether that’s burrata crafted by an artisan in Los Angeles, duck raised in the Hudson Valley, salamis hand-selected from a farmer’s market, or its buffalo mozzarella, which is imported twice weekly from Italy.
“The idea behind Obicà was, ‘Let’s eat in a contemporary way, respecting nature and the environment and the quality of ingredients, much more than being creative at all costs,” says Raimondo Boggia, president and chief executive officer of Obicà USA, while sitting in a spacious booth in the middle of the cavernous new Flatiron dining room on a recent Tuesday morning.
“I’m superselective in the ingredients because it’s the base of any great cuisine,” Boggia explains. “We never want to override the flavor and the taste of the ingredients because we don’t have anything to hide.”
This focus on simplicity is evident as Boggia ticks off the ingredients in the house-made pappardelle: flour, rosemary, water and organic French egg. Further illustrating this kind of approach, the kitchen shies away from overwhelming the food with garlic and balsamic vinegar, and is forbidden from using dry herbs.
It took Boggia a year and a half to find a suitable space in New York, and it’s an historic building that dates back to the 1800s and strikes a balance between homey and industrial. The blond wooden tables and black upholstery mirror the contrast of the brick walls and exposed piping of the open, lofty dining room. The interior, including a 16-seat cocktail bar and 14-seat mozzarella bar, is meant to channel the experience of authentic Italian dining.
“My experience in the luxury business has taught me people love Italy, but not so much the clichés,” Ursini said. “They want the real thing. They don’t want pseudo-Italian.”
Obicà Mozzarella Bar
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday to Friday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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HOUSE COCKTAIL RECIPE: Opera Prima
Boggia says: “It’s an Italian touch on a traditional martini. The Italian touch is the basil and the Sambuca.”
10 basil leaves (muddled)
1.5 oz. lemon vodka
1 oz. citrus syrup
0.5 oz. simple syrup
3-4 oz. Sambuca Mist
1 basil sprig for garnish
To make the citrus syrup, combine equal parts strained lemon juice, sugar and water until dissolved. Combine all ingredients in shaker and shake over ice. Double strain in a cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of basil.