29 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY
212.691.7177 (reservation made by phone)
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Like Natalie Portman swapping Oscar-award dress designers following John Galliano’s anti-Semitic remarks, this month’s Ninth at Nine choice was hastily switched, last minute. We had a reservation weeks in advance for New York City’s venerable house of romance, One if by Land, Two if by Sea (located in Aaron Burr’s former carriage house), but after a few question marks, i.e., unpleasant restaurant-week reviews (not surprising) and an unanswered request to receive a complementary $30 gift card for the restaurant’s 39th anniversary, something didn’t sit right. Besides, Ido Sushi remained etched in our brains thanks to a yellowing New York Times article posted on our fridge, titled: Sushi, with Opera for Dessert. Seriously, sushi and opera?
So, two nights before, we called Ido Sushi curious to see if opera night (every Wednesday and Saturday) was booked, as warned in the article, but the woman took our reservation with enough pleasantries that had us canceling One if by Land immediately thereafter.
The ninth falls on yet another midweek night, and we pass the early evening hours by watching Anthony Bourdain’s Disappearing Manhattan episode and adding new places to our list, like Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, and a French bistro heartily approved by both Bourdain and his dining partner—the now-deceased Food and Wine magazine founder Michael Batterberry. It takes everything not to throw on a suit and cocktail dress and hunt for the Le Veau D’Or in the Upper East Side (French fare suddenly sounds more appealing than cold sushi on this rainy night), but instead stick to our plan in the nearby West Village.
Like a scene out of a movie, we bounce down our front stoop just as an available cab appears on cue, and zips us down 7th Avenue. Running from the rain and into Ido (pronounced ee-doh), we are immediately greeted by a powerful libretto being sung to the accompaniment of a piano on the small stage. We scan the 30-seat restaurant that sits half-empty and realize that the place is more causal than our previous monthly splurges. Having several tables to choose from, we snuggle into a large corner table allowing us to dine side-by-side overlooking the stage. The familiar sushi craving returns, and we both smile in silent agreement knowing we made the right choice.
For starters, the server brings large Sapporos and the recommended raw oysters, each with a beautiful mound of quad-colored roe atop. Meanwhile, one-by-one, amateur but impressive opera singers made their way to the stage for what should be called Karaoke for Opera Singers. Who would have thought that beer, sushi and opera would mix so well?
After the spicy bivalves and mouthwatering black cod—grilled and served with a simple slice of lemon— we order the chef’s sushi/sashimi platter. The large presentation is adequate and the assortment contains the usual spread: salmon, tuna, eel, mackerel, scallop and squid, but there is nothing really to blog home about, except maybe the nice dollop of authentic-tasting wasabi, which in Western countries is often substituted with horseradish, mustard and green food coloring. The worst of the plate is a pile of limp prawns that create a fuzzy consistency in our mouths and literally have us using the napkin-disposal technique. Overall, Ido’s food is on par with any decent neighborhood joint, except for owner/chef Tora Yi and his wife Young’s passion for opera and music. Watch an excerpt!
As we sip hot sake and enjoy the last of the operatic entertainment, the rowdy group next door requests an Irish song, and we are soon enjoying a tableside serenade of Oh Danny Boy. Meanwhile, the pianist, who clearly enjoys a pint or two, hooks up the owner’s video camera to the flat screen to show his favorite Ido Sushi performance of a famous NYC Opera singer that recently stopped by and sang a selection from Marriage of Figaro. The remaining diners watch the television in fellow respect and camaraderie.
On the way out, we give profuse thanks to the large table of staff and singers who now eat free sushi as payment for providing entertainment. Mr. Yi sits at the head of the table wearing his chef hat and a huge grin–and from what the NYT article revealed, he loves opera so much that he’ll sing an aria to an empty restaurant every night before closing. Perhaps, one night, it will be his turn to sing for guests.