Fast Food International: Obikà
Country of origin: Italy
Locations worldwide: 15 in Italy, Japan, Kuwait, UK, and the US
NYC locations: One, in midtown
With a large circular kiosk surrounded by stools and sheltered by bamboo trees, Obikà, the Italian mozzarella bar in the IBM building's Midtown atrium, is one of the more stylish office lobby restaurants you're likely to encounter.
Buffalo mozzarella bearing the Campana DOP (protected origin denomination), imported from the Paestum and Agro Pontino regions, is the star at Obikà. Most lunchers take their cheese in the form of to-go sandwiches served on Sullivan Street Bakery bread, paired with prosciutto, arugula, tomatoes and other usual Italian suspects.
But since mozzarella is their primary focus, I thought I should try one of their tastings. Going the cheese connoisseur route comes with a few caveats. Even shared between two people as they recommend, it's a lot of cheese in a similar style. Price is the other consideration. At $29.50 for three off-white blobs, plus $8.50 for accompaniments beyond the default spinach, cherry tomatoes, and olives (and $3 for a bread basket that never appeared) this was one of the more expensive lunches I've eaten that didn't involve alcohol (wine was promised when they opened in 2008, but it has yet to materialize) or a notable chef.
Obviously, you're not being served rubbery hunks of Polly-O. In fact, helpful servers with thick Italian accents (much of the staff appears to have been imported, as well) explain each mozzarella, and instruct you to work from mild to strong. At the far corner of the plate is the example from Paestum, which is very mild and milky. Pontina's offering, in the middle, is softer in texture with a stronger flavor; and the Stracciatella di Burrata, in the foreground, is extremely creamy with a scoopable interior that separates from the firmer rind. Being the most luxurious and distinct, the burrata was the winner of the trio.
The grilled eggplant, zucchini, radicchio and small dish of pesto did help break up the barrage of dairy.
It would be hard to recommend a full tasting unless you were sharing amongst a number of people--or unless you're an insatiable mozzarella fiend. If you work in the neighborhood, though, Obikà would be a good pick for a smaller dose, sliced into sandwiches and served atop salads.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and librarian (who does not work with books). Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.