Massa's: The New Generation

For nearly a hundred years, the Massa family has sold Houstonians seafood. In 1900 Michael Angelo Massa, a Sicilian immigrant, opened an oyster parlor in Galveston; 44 years later, two of his children, Tony and Louis, launched Massa's Oyster House in downtown Houston, at the intersection of Capitol and Louisiana. Later, the restaurant pared its name down to "Massa's," moved to 1160 Smith [(713)650-0837] and served fried seafood to generations of downtown power-lunch crowds.

On January 4 the family opened a second downtown Massa's, this one called Massa's Seafood Grill [1331 Lamar, (713)655-9100]. Managed by Joe Massa (his brother, Mike, oversees the Smith Street location), the new place works hard both to continue the old Massa's traditions and to do something new. It styles itself "contemporary Creole," a designation broad enough to embrace the relatively modern (spinach linguine with seared sea scallops) and the traditional (crawfish-and-corn chowder, grilled catfish with jambalaya).

The modern pulls ahead in the appetizers: A sauteed crab cake with scallops is enhanced by a handsome tomatillo sauce, but fried calamari in a bland batter aren't redeemed by a run-of-the-mill marinara. And in a sprightly salad, spring greens and Belgian endive are set off by raspberry vinaigrette dressing and Roquefort cheese.

Entrees not to miss include a red snapper fillet bedecked with artichoke hearts, lump crabmeat and a light lemon butter sauce; and grilled salmon with kalamata olives, feta cheese, pickled onions and a balsamic reduction. Admittedly these dishes don't mark the culinary cutting edge; they might have been served by an ambitious restaurant ten years ago. But when you're dealing with tradition as hallowed as Massa's, change takes a while.

Massa's Seafood Grill, 1331 Lamar, (713)655-9100.

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