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Battle Bisque: the Narrows vs. Rays

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Ok, ok, I know the Narrows doesn't actually have crab bisque, it's cream of crab, but I liked my cheesy title too much to change it. This afternoon my husband and I drove to Kent Narrows to try the crab soup and compare it to the bisque at Rays the Steaks (we've been there many times and are going back on Tues for his birthday just to finalize the comparison). We were inspired to go by a recent post citing everyone's favorite soup choices and the Narrows was compared favorably to Rays.

To my taste, Rays wins hands down, but I'll concede the Narrows has a very good version that may fit others tastes better. First, the Narrows version is def. a cream soup, as you can tell right away 'cause it's white, not a pretty pinky orange like the bisque. The main thing I didn't like as well was the texture. The Narrows is definitely thicker, and unfortunately I could id the thickener as either flour or cornstarch. With Rays, the consistency is thinner and the only taste I can detect is butter, sherry, and cream. In that order. On the plus side, you're given a small carafe of sherry at the Narrows to add to your taste. This addition of sherry elevated the soup from good to really, really good. And the addition helped the issues I had with the overly thick consistency. Loved the pronounced sherry flavor it provided, only problem was that to get it to the exact (thinner) consistency I would have wanted, I would have had to add a shade too much sherry. Last detail- the amount and quality of the crab. Quality was outstanding, every bite was meaty and sweet, and I'd give the advantage to the Narrows here- I've never noticed the taste of the crab at Rays being that noticeably sweet. Quantity goes to Rays though, I've consistently gotten a lot more crab at Rays, bigger hunks too.

For entrees, we both had the crab cakes, which were as reported, exemplary. Here, the flavor of the crab really shined through as there is so little binder to crab in the ratio. Really, just perfect. It's a decent size crab cake, but you only get one (I don't know why I was expecting two), so I'm glad we got the soup and oysters Rockefeller to start or I would have still been hungry.

Great birthday weekend excursion, if a little rainy. Total drive time from Rosslyn was one hour.

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  1. I love the Narrows, but not for their cream of crab soup, which is too thick for my taste.

    What makes the Narrows crab cakes good is that they're made with real blue crab meat. As you mentioned, the flavor of the crab shines through. It's becoming depressingly common these days for restaurants to make crab cakes with pasteurized Asian crab meat that has bigger lumps, whiter color, cheaper price, and not much crab taste. The Narrows doesn't do that.

    1. Ray's crab bisque is a BISQUE, not a cream of crab soup. What concerns me is your insisting that the Narrows uses "either flour or cornstarch." They use neither. Rather, a blend of heavy whipping cream and table cream. On a recent visit to Ray's I left somewhat disappointed in their crab bisque believing the complete opposite of what you do: Ray's doesn't hold a candle to the Narrows. But unlike yourself, I PREFER a thicker, a richer soup. not a bisque-as you do. Because I prefer a thicker, richer soup I prefer the Narrows. Ray's is not that; it is also not suppose to be that as the Narrows is not suppose to be a bisque.

      I must also add that a lump of Chesapeake Bay crabmeat is a lump of Chesapeake Bay crabmeat regardless of its size. If Ray's has "bigger lumps" then that is a different discussion. Still, I suspect that both Ray's and the Narrows are using Chesapeake Bay crab meat. If Ray's lumps are indeed larger, well, that is another discussion...

      6 Replies
      1. re: Joe H

        Just my opinion, and I think you pinpointed it- I guess I prefer bisques to cream soups. I did try to note that distinction in my first sentence, but prob my title was still misleading.

        As for the thickener, I'm not trying to insist anything, but I will say I asked the server which thickener was used and she said flour. Maybe she was wrong, but that's the info i got at the restaurant.

        1. re: mjhals

          The server was wrong. This is from Chesapeake Life magazine in an article where they noted:

          "When his dream became reality, he called his friend chef Paul Shiley, with whom Jones worked at The Narrows. Shiley, also a partner, must have brought the cream of crab soup recipe with him from The Narrows, because it, like theirs, is all that cream of crab should be: simple, based on cream (and not flour), rich (but not unctuous), and full of lump crab pieces bigger than my thumb. And the cruet of sherry served alongside the bowl is a thoughtful touch."

          The whole article is here:
          http://www.baltimorestyle.com/index.p...

          Ray's has a very good crab bisque. For myself it doesn't compare to the thicker cream of crab soup at The Narrows which I believe to be the best Maryland style cream of crab soup I have had anywhere. I also make cream of crab soup and the Narrows is fairly easly to duplicate. Your point about flour is well taken: this kind of soup is expensive to make. By definition it must cost more when you use cream rather flour for thickener. At The Narrows their soup is $7.50 with a couple of tablespoons of lump Chesapeake Bay crabmeat spooned on top of it. The Narrows does not use flour as thickener.

          The real question that you have raised is if the lumps of crab at Ray's are indeed larger than the Narrows it would imply that Ray's is not using Chesapeake Bay blue crab. I believe they do. I am also inclined to think that their lumps are, in fact, the same size as the lumps of crab at the Narrows who use Chesapeake Bay blue crab exclusively when it is available or Carolina or Gulf when it is not. I know for a fact that the Narrows uses this because the owner of Ocean Odyssey in Cambridge told me personally that he supplies them with what his crabbers trap in the Bay in season. I've also asked him and the owner of the Narrows what they use offseason and the answer from both was Carolina or Gulf.

          1. re: Joe H

            Joe H., we stopped at the Narrows on the way down to Ocean City at the end of August, The cream of crab soup we got then defnitely was thickened with flour, potato starch, or something besides just cream. I don't know if that was an anomaly or if they've changed their practice. At any rate, I won't be quick to order it again.

            On the other hand, the crab cake was excellent, as was a soft crab special that my wife got. It was so good that when we stopped their again on the way home 5 days later I got it myself.

            1. re: Hal Laurent

              We've had their cream of crab soup fifteen or twenty times over the years. Things do change-I totally understand that. It may be a month or two but I will have their cream of crab soup again. Thanks, Hal.

              1. re: Joe H

                Looking forward to your revisit. I hope my cream of crab soup experience was an anomaly. I love the Narrows. I went there for the first time in the past year, and I'm annoyed with myself for taking so long to finally check the place out.

                1. re: Hal Laurent

                  The interesting thing, Hal, is that as much as I have raved about the Narrows' cream of crab soup their red vegetable crab soup has been consistently...awful. Serious. No stock, but water and little flavor. As much as I love their crab cakes and cream of crab soup I have never liked their red crab soup. Still, I will definitely stop off there and try their cream of crab soup again. Thanks for the report.