Here's an experiment: Mention authentic Italian food in a group of people and see how many suggestions you're offered as to where to go to find it.
Apparently, everyone has a favorite Italian place reminiscent of the old country. And if you're reading articles about restaurants, chances are that you have a place, too -- a suggestion for this writer (which I wholeheartedly welcome, by the way). But if I may, allow me to make a recommendation. The place is Okiba. Now if you're looking for the traditional atmosphere with red-and-white table cloths and old-fashioned crooner music, this isn't the place. This is not the sort of place where you would expect a mob hit to take place. In fact, it's at a mall.
But make no mistake, this isn't mall food. Yes, a stand-alone building on a charming corner of pedestrian-friendly neighborhood would be more fitting, but on the bright side, Century City is a central location, accessible from anywhere in L.A. And the parking is good. More importantly, the food is good. In fact, it's better than good.
The 900-degree brick oven cooks a pizza in about a minute, crisping it to perfection. The stone-ground flour dough requires 48 hours to slowly rise. The Pomodoro Biologico e Mozzarella (organic tomato, Bufala mozzarella and fresh basil) is emblematic of the pizzas you will find here (and at $12, is a steal. The most expensive one on the list is $16). The Verdure Grigliate isn't bad if you like grilled veggies -- eggplant, zucchini and radicchio. My favorite, however, is the N'Dujua e Burrata, featuring spicy sausage and a red pepper spread with a lingering heat.
And in addition to pizza, there are also a variety of incredible paninis, served with soup and salad. You'll also find a selection of imported cheeses and meats, which, CEO Raimondo Boggia pointed out, are imported three times a week. And the restaurant uses locally grown produce. For the best deal, check out the lunch specials, served Monday through Friday until 4 p.m.
As Boggia will tell you, Italy, as a country, is very young. The peninsula has always been a loosely-knit collection of geographically and politically diverse regions. As such, there are myriad flavors that vary not just between north and south, but from one locale to the next. Okiba Mozzarella Bar celebrates that diversity by showcasing a different region each month at a festive dinner.
In April, the restaurant celebrated the region of Liguria, the home of Christopher Columbus. The coastal territory is composed primarily of mountains and hills, which rapidly descend toward the ocean. Seafood is a staple among its population. The area is known for its fragrant white wines, rich with the scents of herbs like basil, thyme and tarragon.
In honor of Liguria, the menu on this evening featured, among other dishes, chickpea flatbread with anchovy and burrata bruschetta, ravioli with leaf vegetables and herbs in a white walnut sauce, cod stew and for dessert, Paciugo - which was a little of everything tossed together: three types of gelato served Portofino-style. The meal was a bargain at $38, and even better with the $15 wine pairing. And if that weren't enough, this is a great opportunity to mingle with other foodies.
At first glance, Okiba Mozzarella Bar might not appear to be an authentic Italian experience. But look past that and you'll discover that the food is as real as it gets.