The differences between a seafood chowder and a seafood bisque may seem small, but to a classic French chef, the two are very different soups. Chowders are properly made with milk, butter, and pieces of seafood, while bisques are cream-based purées of seafood. The latter may be laced with brandy or sherry; the former never are. You sprinkle croutons on the bisque, and crackers on the chowder. Whether this makes one better than the other is up to individual taste, but a great lobster bisque is a wondrous thing — exceedingly rich, tasting of the sea, and, in the end, ineffably French.
One of the best places to find a lush rendering of lobster bisque the way it should be made — without a floury base — is at Balthazar (80 Spring St.; 212-965-1414), a classic Parisian brasserie that just happens to be in New York’s trendy SoHo neighborhood.
Some other good bisque bets:
AUSTIN, TEXAS: Sardine Rouge, 311 W. Sixth St.; (512) 473-8642
CHICAGO: Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, 160 E. Pearson St.; (312) 266-1000
CINCINNATI: Maisonette, 114 E. Sixth St.; (513) 721-2260
CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA: Pascal’s on Ponce, 2611 Ponce de Leon Blvd.; (305) 444-2024
WAYNE, PENNSYLVANIA: le mas perrier, 503 W. Lancaster Ave.; (610) 964-2588