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Meet Wende Stevenson and Aaron Gross of MoMo Italian Kitchen in Lake Highlands

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wende Stevenson and Aaron Gross.

Wende Stevenson, who now owns the original MoMo Italian Kitchen along with her husband, Aaron Gross, entered the restaurant business working for Antonio “MoMo” Gattini in the late ’80s. She was 21. He was, she says, “the most fascinating man I’d ever met.” Fresh from Italy, he presented traditional dining in courses—primi and secondi—and was not interested in making concessions. Pasta sent out with the main course? Never! “I apologize, I’m Italian,” Gattini said in a disclaimer on the menu. Dallas had to be taught.

The bulk of the North Dallas restaurant’s recipes came from his mother, Fernanda Gosetti, the Julia Child of Northern Italy. She wrote more than 50 cookbooks and, along with her two sisters, revived the Milan-based culinary magazine La Cucina Italiana. Illustrations from the Gosetti cookbooks dotted the menu at MoMo, which was used until a few years ago. Part history lesson, part primer, it traced the origin of pizza to the ancient Greeks and cited the first documentation of the word “maccheroni.”

Specialties included Northern Italian fare: risottos and ris in cagnon, the creamy wedding rice dish that Milan is known for, with veal rolls cradling prosciutto. Diners came for Northern-style lasagna, with a rich béchamel replacing the tomato sauce, and for desserts like zabaglione (an egg custard flavored with Marsala) and ice cream dishes—amarenata and sciuscia—from Gosetti’s repertoire that you couldn’t find anywhere else in Dallas.

When Gross and Stevenson bought MoMo Italian Kitchen in 2017 from Gattini’s son Carlo—who had gone on to the gelato business with Botolino Gelato Artigianale—they continued to use the original recipes prepared by the same kitchen staff that has been in place since the restaurant opened. MoMo had always been their favorite restaurant and date-night spot, even when they’d gone on to other jobs at York Street, The Green Room, Mot Hai Ba, Shinsei, and Lola. The old menu remains as a relic, tucked in a drawer.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
For the most part it has been a smooth transition, not to say there were not challenges, but we have overcome those. We continue to evolve, recently adding Happy Hour Monday-Friday and renovating the space next door to include a private dining and party space for special events.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the MoMo Italian Kitchen story. Tell us more about the business.
We serve classic Northern Italian fare with unique dishes you will not find anywhere else in Dallas, like Ris in Cagnon, a traditional Milanese wedding dish. We now offer a carefully curated and fairly priced wine list that complements our offerings. Most people do not know that you can also buy our wines at retail prices to enjoy at home. We are one of the only restaurants in Dallas to offer a diverse cocktail menu of low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails. We are especially proud of our Vecchio Stile which is a take on an Old Fashioned, but prepared with Cardamaro, La Copa Vermouth and bitters.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
It was both good and bad luck that we were able to purchase MoMo Italian Kitchen. We were having a bit of bad luck trying to open our own restaurant, but got a ton of good luck with the offer to carry on the legacy of MoMo Italian Kitchen.

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Image Credit:
Emily Loving

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