Photo courtesy of Evan Sung
When the Roman mozzarella-bar chain Obicà opened a café in 2008 in Midtown Manhattan (590 Madison Ave.), the crowds came quickly and have stayed ever since. While the atrium setting serves the eatery’s four signature varieties (classic bufala, smoked, burrata, burrata with black truffle), flown in twice a week from a small farm in Italy’s Campania region, the fast-dining-and-takeout format doesn’t lend itself to lingering.
That will change when the brand’s first New York restaurant (its 20th location worldwide) opens July 24 in the Flatiron District (928 Broadway; obika.com). The 120-seat outpost celebrates Obicà’s ten-year anniversary, with its star cheese highlighting dishes like thin-crust pizza topped with spicy sausage and oozing burrata or baked pasta binded with bufala. Umbrian executive chef Enzo Nero also offers cheese-free creations, such as a bone-in breaded veal cutlet with wild arugula and black cod with rosemary chickpea puree.
Whatever the renditions, the real surprise might be the garlic-and-onion-free kitchen. Managing partner Raimondo Boggia, who oversees the cooking, talks here about his vision for the new space and why he serves Italian sans its two most prominent ingredients.
Q: What is the concept of the new restaurant?
A: It’s contemporary Italian cuisine that’s simple. We want to stay away from overwhelming diners with too many flavors and we want to showcase the best ingredients, both local and from Italy. The produce is mostly organic and comes from farmers in the area, and everything else like the salami, olive oil, sea salt and pine nuts comes from Italy. We pride ourselves on making everything in-house, including the breads, pastas and gelatos.
Q: The café serves a small selection of wine. How does alcohol figure in here?
A: It’s definitely something we are emphasizing more. We have 190 wines by the bottle and 16 by the glass from all the regions in Italy. They are from small, hard-to-find producers. There is also an extensive selection of cocktails.
Q: To the real question: What do you have against garlic and onions?
A: The food is meant to be light and fresh and we want to let our superb ingredients shine. When we cook with garlic and onions, which do taste fantastic, there is a tendency to abuse them and use them to mask other flavors. They can weigh down dishes. Our goal was to let all of our other superb ingredients shine.
Q: But aren’t they essential to Italian cooking?
A: Absolutely not. Italy has a variety of flavors that does not include garlic and onions. The country is like an artist who loves painting with two colors. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a picture without them.
Q: It’s hard to find a recipe for a basic tomato sauce without garlic. How do you make yours?
A: Fresh Roma tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh organic basil and sea salt. It’s delicious—as good as my grandmother’s back in Italy.