Roll Up, Sing Out: A Sushi Restaurant Delivers Opera Arias

Thursday, July 21, 2011

VIDEO: It Goes Together Like Opera and Sushi

Tora Yi explains that his first name means "tiger" in Japanese, a symbol of audacity not unsuited to his line of work.

Since 2004, Yi has been the owner of Ido Sushi in the West Village. His restaurant features a traditional Japanese menu but it’s the sideline that elicits stares and puzzled remarks from passersby. Every Wednesday and Saturday night for the past four years, Yi has hosted an open-mic night featuring opera singers -- amateurs, students and professionals as well as the occasional cameo from a Met or City Opera star.

“I see a lot of people passing by my restaurant saying, ‘oh, opera and sushi. This is very weird,'" said Yi. “But I always tell people, Chinese invented noodles, but the Italians made pasta out of Chinese noodles and they made a great dish.”

For the Korean-born Yi, the weekly salon was born out of a desire to instill an appreciation for culture in his daughter, Sunabi, who is now 12. “I didn’t plan to do it at the beginning,” he explained. “I had a piano in my restaurant but I knew if I was going to be here all the time, my daughter would be here a lot of time also.”

Personal experience motivated Yi. At age seven, he was enrolled in a piano class but he quit after one lesson, feeling that music-making was not considered a macho pursuit. “That’s the thing I regret most in my life,” he said.

In his home in Whitestone, Queens, Yi starts almost every day by practicing opera arias, sometimes for hours at a time. He has enrolled in voice lessons, studies opera DVDs and occasionally goes to the Met. "It’s not easy,” he said of his training. "I like to listen and sing but not in front of an audience yet. Someday I will maybe. That’s my goal.”

Yi noted that he considered discontinuing the opera nights last summer when his wife, who manages the restaurant's finances, complained that attendance was dwindling and the singers didn’t order any food. But he persevered. “A lot of the singers are not from New York so they needed a nest,” he said. “I feel like I have to do this. Whenever they come they talk about the music industry and sometimes we drink sake together and become very good friends.”  

On a recent Wednesday, singers of varying ages and voice categories ascended the small stage in the corner of the restaurant while customers dined on Teriyaki and two of the house specialties: Verdi Rolls and Puccini Rolls.

“Whoever loves art, it belongs to them,” said Yi. “That’s the fundamental idea."


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Comments [8]

Jack from United States

I love Japanese food and especially the sushi food. In New York, you may find number of restaurants offering sushi food, but I usually prefer to visit my favorite ones such as Ido sushi, Jack's sliders and Sushi. These are the perfect places to enjoy sushi food and music. I just love the food, opera music. Thanks for posting.

May. 06 2015 08:30 AM
Murray Weinstock from Upper Westside

Ido Sushi has been the first restaurant that I have been to the reminds me of the comradery of the Village restaurants in the 60's and 70's. The lives of everyone I knew revolved around music!

Tora is one of the most creative cooks that i have ever met. And with fish, the quality and freshness is unbeatable.

(By the way, I provide a musical evening each Thursday called Thursdays with Murray!

Jul. 28 2011 07:43 PM
Erica Miner from CA

Bravo, Yi. Viva l'opera!

Jul. 27 2011 11:08 PM
Steph Ziemann from New York, NY

So glad to see this article. I love Ido. Staffed by incredibly good-hearted, generous people who celebrate and nurture Manhattan's arts community. Exceptional sushi and great music. I hope you will all drop by Ido to support Tora and his brave, joyful vision.

Jul. 27 2011 02:18 PM
Alex Alexander from NYC

Ido Sushi is a wonderful place with some of the best Sushi in NYC.
There is music almost every night. I go every Tuesday for R&B, Jazz and Pop live music.
Try it! You'll love it.

Jul. 27 2011 09:55 AM
Kang form Seoul, Korea from Seoul,Korea

By hosting an opera night, Tora Yi inspires not only amateurs to put their own career in music but also
customers dined on great Sushi to fall in love with art.
Ido Sushi thrives !

Hope to taste Verdi Rolls and Puccini Rolls soon. ^_^

Jul. 26 2011 08:57 PM
Victoria from New Rochelle, NY

My grandparents who lived in the Village all their lives used to take us kids out to Asti's for dinner...where opera was seamlessly integrated amongst the wait staff, bus boys, bar tender and waitress' - we loved it, the food, the people, the music. Asti's has been closed for a long time, which is sad but I really hope Tora Yi keeps this unique blend of the culinary and the cultural alive in the West Village! Yes, noodles to pasta is a great recipe for success!

Jul. 22 2011 02:49 PM
Carolyn from New York

Wonderful! May he thrive.

Jul. 22 2011 10:00 AM

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