Pasta perfect, service prego

Over the years, I've reviewed various Momo restaurants a number of times for one publication or another (since the publishing business is nearly as risky as the restaurant business, there have been many publications), and the summing-up has always been the same: great food, lousy service. Sometimes slow, sometimes inept, sometimes grumpy, never what it should be.

Of course, that's partly because service has more variables than the other aspects of a restaurant. The kitchen can make mistakes, but after all, cooking is chemistry, with predictable results if you do it correctly.

Service involves not just the personalities of each diner and waiter, but moods, sore feet, schedules, levels of inebriation and hormones, biorhythms, probably even astrology. No wonder so many things can go wrong. But whenever I complain about service, I think it's written off as the opinion of a jaded, finicky, demanding reviewer who likes to complain. I don't really like to complain. I hound my own children too much about manners to get a kick out of kvetching about the attitudes of people I'm not even related to.

Confusingly, there are two groups of restaurants in Dallas called Momo's. The original Momo's started on Forest Lane, and was immediately Dallas' favorite "secret" Italian restaurant. Over the years Momo's multiplied and finally, it split into Momo's Italian Specialties and Momo's Pasta. The latter's Knox Street cafe is where I ate dinner for this review; its sisters are in Deep Ellum and Addison, and just lately, Nero's on Greenville became part of the family.

And this dinner was another where everything was great except the service. The evening was fine, so we sat on the patio, right on the street. It's nice that you can still take your own wine, but there is a fine, inexpensive list, so we had some Chianti. The meal was well-paced--we'd told our waitress we were on our way to a concert--and the food was mostly delicious. It's just the waitress who was grumpy, unsmiling, answering questions only with curt yes's and no's. I don't ask for chattiness--only civility. Do you have to tip in advance for more information?

Momo's has always had an interesting menu--I even liked the "textbooks" they used to use, which included historical and geographical notes on the origins of every dish. This time we tried tagliatelle made with cacao and mixed with bright green peas, prosciutto, and parmesan--a thin, sticky cream reduction coating each strand and sphere. The cocoa changed the pasta's texture slightly, making it a little "shorter," a little richer.

Momo's risotto, a decadently luxurious dish combining everything expensive including time, was an overflowing dish of creamy, saffron-scented rice with red chunks of lobster and shrimp. The first taste was a good salty shock to the mouth, but the saltiness evaporated almost immediately, lingering just enough so the shrimp's sweetness was actually seasoned by the rich risotto. The ingredients were just united enough for one to enhance the other, without the whole balance collapsing into an indeterminate stew. The dish was incredibly rich, fatter than I could bear to finish, but so delicious I couldn't resist taking tiny bites till the waitress took it away. (She removed each of our plates as we finished, or just before.)

Linguine with lamb and tomato sauce had too much tomato sauce in proportion to pasta, but tiny delicate strips of lamb made a pleasant change from the heft of beef. Rotolo, pinwheels of pasta rolled around ricotta and spinach, had unfortunately been reheated without sauce so some of the pasta had a leathery edge to it; the tomato sauce was served in a little pitcher for you to pour, and the kitchen should have done it.

Desserts--a mammoth slab of chocolate cake, an ungodly hunk of carrot cake, the inevitable tiramisu, and obscenely rich turtle cheesecake ("turtle" as you know indicating chocolate and caramel). The cakes were cold and though the desserts were good, they killed with good intentions. Portions were grossly large, I thought, but there are those--this waitress was one--who don't think as I do. She waxed enthusiastically about the sweets--really, they were the one subject our waitress warmed up to.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Momo's Pasta, 3312 Knox St. 521-3009. Open for lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., for dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Open Saturday 11 a.m.- 11:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

Tagliatelle cacao $10.95
Rotolo verde $10.95
Momo's risotto $15.95
Linguine with lamb and tomato sauce $10.50
Chocolate cake $3.85


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