March 8, 2004 | Ask Gael

Will $500 buy piscatory nirvana?

        It’s a moment of high drama as Masa Takayama, taut and precise as any star athlete, jiggles his cutting board and slashes away at the first omakase tasting of his Manhattan career. Two of us—alone at Masa’s 26-foot imported hinoki-wood sushi counter—inhale the scent of cedar with each sip of icy sake from wooden cups. And suddenly I am eating something I’ve never before tasted. Eel liver tossed with odd little greens. Masa the master surgeon slices, shreds, chops, seasons, as a duo of nurselike assistants fetch, simmer, toast, anticipate his needs. Tonight’s brilliant mackerel tickles his imagination. We taste it in a few guises, first slivered with fried shiso in mysterious dribblings. A small, shovel-like wooden spoon is for minced toro under a drift of Iranian Osetra. Hairy crab flown in that morning comes tossed with just-grated yuzu peel in a sublime salad. There is raw lobster and foie gras to simmer in one’s own hot pot. And then, as the eight other seats fill up, our march of sushi begins. Even everyday squid gets a couturier gilding, with yuzu zest, sea salt, and a slick of soy-sake sauce. A rice tuffet bearing embryonic shrimp raw from Tokyo Bay is thrillingly sweet. “Now I can die,” says my companion, Masa’s architect, Richard Bloch. I’m delirious, too, wondering if $500—$300 plus tax, tip, drinks—for this theater is merely indulgent or actually immoral.

Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, fourth floor 212 823 9800

Patina Restaurant Group