I've been going to Maeda (41st Street bet Fifth and Madison) for years and have always considered it many cuts above the average NYC sushi bar. It's one of those places that seems to exist apart from the sushi trend. The service is wonderfully soliticous and the food is always very good--without rising to stratospheric prices. But last night I had a particularly special meal.
I hadn't noticed before that the menu offered a "tricolor chirashi" where you picked 3 out of 5 or 6 items to have over rice. I picked tuna, squid and sea urchin, and eel. Well, the chirashi came in three separate wooden bowls. The tuna was standard-issue, but I don't much like the extremely fatty kind anyway. The rice was perfect, not too sweet like a lot of chirashis these days, and judiciously sprinkled with some nori. The squid/sea urchin was spectacular. A thin piece of squid that had been scored into tagliarini-width strands topped with a nice lump of sea urchin. With the nori-ed rice, these flavors were the essence of ocean.
Finally the eel: Before the three pieces of tender, barbecued (or toaster-ovened!) eel was placed on the rice, a bed of finely sliced cucumber and finely sliced egg omelet (I forget what it's called) were strewn on the rice. Again, a perfect combo, as the roundness of the egg and the cleanness of the cuke were just the thing for the rich, sweet eel.
The miso soup that preceded was likewise a cut above. You could tell it wasn't instant and the tofu had a melting tenderness you rarely find in gratis, restaurant miso. Along with salad (ignored), pickles (enjoyed) and tea being constantly filled up, the meal cost me $32, a bargain when you condsider what $32 usually buys.