“That kind of scene, I mind,” Masa says. “I get pissed off.” Try dabbing one corner of the fish in the sauce instead. Whenever there’s rice (i.e., nigiri and rolls, but not sashimi), eat it with your hands. Chopsticks could shatter the fragile little package. “When you touch it, this part of the taste, too,” Masa says. “You don’t know what you eat until you touch.” And down it in one bite. Those giant pieces are all show; better restaurants keep them small so you can focus on the electrifyingly fresh flavors without dislocating your jaw like a python.

On the road to higher sushi consciousness, one of the nastiest speed bumps is wasabi abuse. And there’s a good chance that the guy with the Rolex Presidential who swirls more green goo into his soy than anyone else has never had a smear of the real stuff. Genuine wasabi is rare. The little green rhizome has a quicker, sweeter finish, but it can fetch about $100 a pound. That’s why most sushi restaurants buy European horseradish dyed green. Either way, a skilled sushi chef knows just the right amount to dab between the rice and the fish, so you shouldn’t need to add more. But if you choose to, wipe a tiny bit on top of your fish. You wouldn’t want to rile the man with the knife. Sachio Kojima, head chef at Kabuto A&S in San Francisco, says oily fish like yellowtail lend themselves better to wasabi’s kick than smooth shellfish like clams.

Of course, the central character in this drama is the fish itself. Here’s a little secret Shingo Inoue, head chef at Shoji Sushi in Miami, chose to share. Sushi restaurants generally buy whole fish. As with beef, the quality of the fish you receive depends on where the cut comes from. In general, the belly is the fattiest—-and therefore tastiest; think of it as a well-marbled filet. Chefs aren’t going to squander that on just anyone. “You go to table, you don’t know what kind of cut you get, but you go to sushi bar, you usually get the best cut. If I say this, nobody go to table anymore, but it’s true,” Inoue says. “A lot of people who go to table, they don’t know lot about sushi—so why should we give them the best part?” So, if you learn but one word of Japanese, let it be omakase. It translates roughly as “chef’s choice,” and puts your entire experience in his hands. When you sit at finer sushi bars, it’s a magical incantation that can open the door to enlightenment. (All meals at Masa are oma- kase.) “You can tell me what you like and what you don’t like, but tell me you want to try new things,” says Inoue. “I would take care of this customer really good.” A great omakase sushi experience, Masa says, is almost like a symphony, with spine-tingling crescendos and lush harmonies. Just make sure you’re not the schmuck who claps after the first movement.