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Meet Soichi Sushi: San Diego’s youngest and most-reluctant Michelin-starred restaurant

Soichi Kadoya of Michelin-starred Soichi Sushi at the University Heights restaurant.
Soichi Kadoya, center, owner/chef of Michelin-starred Soichi Sushi, behind the University Heights restaurant’s 10-seat sushi counter.
(Cindy Nixon)

Soichi and Raechel Kadoya opened their omakase restaurant in University Heights just two years ago

On Sept. 28, the Michelin Guide handed out 27 new Michelin stars to restaurants in California, including four new stars in San Diego County.

For the local chefs at Michelin two star Addison and Michelin one stars Jeune et Jolie and Sushi Tadokoro, the highly coveted awards marked the pinnacle of their culinary careers. But for chef Soichi Kadoya — who opened Soichi Sushi with his wife, Raechel Kadoya, just two years ago in University Heights — receiving a star was an unexpected and stressful experience. Kadoya worried that an explosion of new business might change the intimate, neighborly and highly social dining experience that he and his wife have cultivated at their 26-seat restaurant.

Where to find and what to know about San Diego’s Michelin starred, Bib Gourmand and Plate restaurants

Fortunately, his worries were for naught. Raechel, who manages the business and reservations, said all that has changed at Soichi is the length of its waiting list, which has grown from two months to three since the award announcement. For diners who sign up to fill last-minute table cancellations, that list has grown to 230 names. But as always, the Kadoyas still keep four seats at the 10-seat sushi counter available every night for their fiercely loyal regulars. They also haven’t felt the urge to decorate the restaurant with a Michelin star trophy or window sticker.

A halibut course from the nigiri omakase menu at Michelin-starred Soichi Sushi in University Heights.
(Cindy Nixon)

Although Soichi Sushi is a traditional Japanese omakase (chef’s choice) restaurant, it’s unlike most others, with its warmth, cheer and talkative chef team. Kadoya was a bartender and musician before he became a sushi chef and the acoustic guitar hanging on the back wall isn’t for show. He’s known to serenade his customers, who frequently buy rounds of drinks for the jolly chefs. Every course is served with a smile and an explanation of where the fish was caught and its preparation method. Laughter is the restaurant’s background music.

Kadoya grew up in Yokosuka, Japan, where as a boy he caught black snapper — the chubby fish seen on the Soichi logo — and sold them to restaurants that serve the nearby U.S. Navy base. At 16, he got his first job at an area sushi restaurant, where he was bartending a few years later when he met his wife, the Chula Vista-born daughter of a U.S. Navy officer stationed at Yokosuka. They married and moved to San Diego in 1999, where he got a job as an apprentice sushi chef at Ichiban Sushi in Hillcrest, and later Surfside Sushi in Pacific Beach. There, he worked side by side with fellow apprentice and soon-to-be close friend Takeaki Tadokoro.

The exterior of Michelin-starred Soichi Sushi in University Heights.
(Soichi Sushi)

In 2004, the Kadoyas moved back to Japan and were there in 2011 when a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, just 150 miles from their home. Worried about how the radiation might affect their three daughters, Raechel move back to San Diego with the children in 2012, while her husband stayed behind to sort out the family’s property and finance issues.

In 2013, Tadokoro decided to open his own restaurant and flew to Japan to ask Kadoya to come work for him. Kadoya would spend six years at Sushi Tadokoro before he and Raechel opened Soichi Sushi. The two men have remained as close as brothers and they’ve happily celebrated each other’s Michelin star success.

Soichi Kadoya sharse a toast with customers at Soichi Sushi in University Heights.
Soichi Kadoya, center, and his chefs share a toast with customers at Soichi Sushi in University Heights.
(Cindy Nixon)

The Fukushima experience made the Kadoyas ocean environmentalists. They’re vigilant about where they buy their Japanese seafood, selecting only fish caught in the northern waters away from the tidal currents around the former nuclear plant. They also buy from markets that sell fish mostly pole-caught by fishermen in small Japanese villages and they don’t waste any parts of the fish they buy.

Kadoya’s a purist in how he prepares and serves his fish in the traditional Japanese style. He makes his own marinades and sauces and has a unique sushi rice technique. There are no American-style sushi rolls. Diners can order a la carte or choose from two prix-fixe menus. The generously portioned $95 nigiri omakase menu comes with a starter plate of four appetizer bites, 12 pieces of nigiri sushi, a bowl of shirumono (fish soup) and a scoop of house-made toasted sesame or green tea ice cream. The $135 full omakase menu features eight skillfully plated dishes with both raw and cooked items.

An array of dishes from Soichi Sushi, which earned a Michelin star on Sept. 28.
(Mark Lagrisola)

Highlights from the nigiri menu on a recent visit included monkfish with a sweet vinaigrette salad, delicate emperor’s tofu from Japan, red snapper with house yuzu and shaved Himalayan rock salt; triggerfish topped with a sweet mousse of triggerfish liver; a generous portion of briny sea urchin from Hokkaido and a luxuriously creamy mouthful of toro (fatty tuna belly).

Soichi Sushi doesn’t have the sleek, minimalist look, nor the churchlike environment of many higher-end sushi restaurants, but it’s just as much the culmination of one chef’s life experience in the kitchen as all the other newly minted Michelin-starred restaurants in California.

Soichi Sushi

Hours: 4:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays

Where: 2121 Adams Ave., San Diego

Phone: (619) 677-2220

Online: soichisushi.com


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