Just back from 2 weeks in NYC and went to Pearl Oyster Bar twice and Ed's Lobster Bar once. I had the lobster roll each time. Frankly I don't understand why Ed's is criticized so much on the board, it was incredible. I would say that Pearl was overall slightly better but they were both so good it is almost like splitting hairs. Here are the differences I noticed:
Pearl uses a little more mayo. The lobster at Ed's had an infintessimal amount of coating. Can you do electroplating with mayo? At Ed's there is a pound of lobster meat with a teaspoon of mayo and at Pearl it is a tablespoon. I think the slightly larger amount is better, but again it is splitting hairs.
Ed's roll was more buttery (buttery-er?). In fact, it tasted almost caramelized. Mmm, I can still taste it, it was that good. The first pearl visit I thought the roll was buttery (in fact, I remember thinking "how can it be this buttery with the lobster sitting on it?") but then I went to Ed's and it was much more so. Then when I returned to Pearl it didn't seem so buttery the second time; maybe Ed's spoiled me.
The lobster in the Ed's roll was a little bit chewier. I wonder if it was slightly overcooked. It wasn't bad, just a little chewy. When I went back to Pearl the second time the lobster was still tender, not chewy.
The fries at Ed's are good. Maybe very good. The fries at Pearl are to die for. When I read "matchstick fries" on the chowhound boards, I thought they would be like those crispy potato sticks. nope, they were french fries, and they were perfection.
All in all, a tough call to pick the better one. Ed's was not crowded, Pearl was crowded both times. So if you want to sit without waiting, go to Ed's.
I saw someone at another table eating steamers at Pearl and I was jealous - but I know that even if I lived around the corner and ate at Pearl every day I wouldn't be able to pass up ordering that lobster roll. Maybe I can get the steamers as an appetizer next time!
Anyone try making the lobster roll at home? How does it come out? The recipe is in the cookbook.
Thanks to everyone for their advice. I would not have known about Pearl if it weren't for chowhound.