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Refreshing Cuisine Wakes Winter Palatte in Santa Monica  
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By Zina Markevicius
Special to the Lookout

January 5, 2017 -- Even in Santa Monica, hibernation is tempting. Chilly temperatures, short days, and a bit of rain drive us home. New discoveries are delayed until the springtime, and instincts call for retreat.

But on a crisp winter’s night in downtown, the sunshine came through. It was served by a passionate Italian, and it was topped with a radish.

The root vegetable is the featured ingredient in dishes at 21 restaurants participating in Santa Monica Restaurant Week, held January 9 to 15 to highlight the city’s burgeoning health-conscious culinary scene.

Restauranteur Raimondo Boggia hosted a media dinner with Santa Monica Travel & Tourism at Obicà Mozzarella Bar, Pizza e Cucina as part of the event launch Tuesday. The special radish dish at Obicà is the Insalata di Quinoa that feels like a blend of Italian and California cuisine to shake away the winter blues.

Picture of Obica's Quinoa salad
Insalata di Quinoa (Photo courtesy of Obicà Mozzarella Bar, Pizza e Cucina)

Served as a vegan option ($11) or with crab (additional $4), the salad features bright ingredients, lightly dressed. Red quinoa is combined with creamy avocado and complemented by the mild sweetness of the papaya and crab, as well as the crisp contrast of the red radish. The salad is easy and comforting for a winter’s dinner yet also a refreshing reminder of sunny days.

Lightness flows through many of the dishes at Obicà, including the signature mozzarella offerings flown in from Italy. The Mozzarella Experience ($26) delivers a selection of two types of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, as well as bright white mounds of ricotta with pine nuts and cranberries and stracciatella with anchovies. Each cheese is soft and refreshing, and the extra kick from accompaniments like the anchovies keeps every bite interesting.

Salty fish paired with creamy cheese is again a delightful surprise with the Degustazione di Burrata ($22). Sea urchin, smoked salmon and cured fish roe known as bottarga are matched with three little mountains of burrata. Given the similar texture, the sea urchin is the easiest to spoon onto the housemade foccacia or olive bread, but the salmon and bottarga provide greater contrast between salty and smooth. Here, cheese is a breath of fresh air.

Boggia is managing partner of Obicà USA, and his love of fresh, quality ingredients cannot be understated. On Tuesday night, he described the painstaking process to procure salmon smoked without the sugar commonly used as a preservative. The result is delicate sockeye salmon from Alaska prepared specially for Obicà.

The restaurant’s signature branzino comes with green beans, black-eyed peas, and cherry tomatoes that are “barely cooked,” according to Boggia, who lived in Santa Monica when he first moved to California nine years ago. He is delighted with the fresh ingredients available here in addition to the enthusiasm at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

The restaurant opened in its Santa Monica outpost early last year. In addition to locations in Century City and West Hollywood, they have restaurants in Italy, London, and New York.

Among the pasta offerings are the Taglierini Neri ($23) and the Pappardelle all-Anatra ($20). The taglierini is a squid ink pasta with Sardinian bottarga, crab and sea urchin. A black mountain of pasta is always dramatic, and Boggia described this version as “fishy” for fish lovers. It is indeed a delight for lovers of salty, sweet seafood. Sushi fans should devour it.

The pappardelle is served with duck ragu, which is flavorful but surprisingly light. Boggia said the recipe is inspired by Catherine de’ Medici, the Florentine who married the King of France and brought a recipe for duck with orange with her from Italy in the 16th century.

Obicà’s dish features wide ribbons of rosemary pasta hugging an earthy sauce with ground duck. Fine, long strips of orange zest finish the composition. A heavy reliance on meat is avoided, and the herbed pasta and bright citrus once again deliver the restaurant’s signature lightness.

Dessert is not an afterthought with choices including rich panna cotta topped with fragrant passionfruit ($10) and a flourless chocolate cake ($10) made with only two ingredients--chocolate and almonds. The airy tiramisu ($10) is most exceptional with graceful cream and prepared fresh each day.

Attentive service in an uncluttered, contemporary setting, Obicà Mozzarella Bar gives diners room to breathe and enjoy. The refreshing experience inspires further exploration.

A number of restaurants participating in Santa Monica Restaurant Week join Obicà in presenting salads with the featured radish. These include Fig Restaurant, Flower Child and Wexler’s Deli. More unusual radish dishes come from Monsieur Marcel, offering a black radish mille-feuille ($15), and Perry’s Café, serving creamy radish soup ($7). Asian-influenced recipes are found at Bar-belle, Dhaba Cuisine of India, and Sushi Roku.

Touted for its Vitamin C and fiber, radishes may be detoxifying but perhaps not the most inspiring vegetable. Yet Santa Monica Restaurant Week serves as a reminder of the culinary richness found within the city limits and a reason to keep getting out there this winter.

For more information about Santa Monica Restaurant Week visit www.SantaMonica.com/RestaurantWeek


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