New Solaire chef Stefen Shatto and a dessert dish he calls the “Birds & Bees Nest."
(Via Instagram)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Solaire’s makeover, Maui fundraisers & Rocky Mountain oysters

Welcome to Lily Belli on Food, a weekly food-focused newsletter from Lookout’s food and drink correspondent, Lily Belli. Keep reading for the latest local food news for Santa Cruz County — plus a few fun odds and ends from my own life and around the web.

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... Solaire restaurant at Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz is experiencing a metamorphosis that is nearing completion. The restaurant has been completely renovated and expanded over the past few months and will reopen this fall with a new look, new menus and new chef. Santa Cruz native Stefen Shatto will take the helm, and I’m looking forward to talking to him about his plans for Solaire 2.0. In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at a few dishes that might make it onto the new menu on his Instagram page, and I have to say, I’m impressed. Watch for a preview and interview with Shatto as fall approaches.

A man stands amid the wreckage of Lahaina, Maui
A man stands amid the wreckage in downtown Lahaina, Maui.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

… Two island-inspired restaurants are fundraising for the people of Maui and the town of Lahaina, which was destroyed in a catastrophic fire Aug. 8. Hula’s Island Grill in downtown Santa Cruz designated Mondays through October as “Maui Mondays.” On these days, 100% of the restaurant’s proceeds will be donated to the Hawai’i Community Foundation – Maui Strong Fund and Maui United Way.

Pono Hawaiian Grill, which has locations in Santa Cruz, Capitola and San Jose, partnered with Santa Cruz Surf Shop to create a line of “Maui Strong” T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring the Hawaiian restaurant’s shaka sign logo. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Hawai’i Community Foundation. Find out more here.

… Alderwood Santa Cruz puts prime cuts of meat front and center on its fine-dining menu, and on Sundays starting Sept. 3, it offers a prix-fixe menu focused on a steakhouse favorite — prime rib. The restaurant is leaning into the theme with a three-course menu that features Alderwood takes on steakhouse classics like a wedge salad, popovers and a soft-serve sundae. You can even order your prime rib “carpetbagger style” and add buttermilk-fried oysters and sauce noisette for an additional $30. It’s a playful take on Alderwood’s theme, while promising some serious technique and flavor. Reservations are $85 per person. Book a table and view the menu at

… Some of the most beautiful food I’ve eaten this summer has been created by chef Elizabeth Albertucci at her new Scotts Valley café, Melamore. The little café operates out of a mobile kitchen in the nursery at Love Apple Farm for lunch service Friday through Tuesday from noon to 4 p.m. Her menu is deeply inspired by her Italian roots and the season — so much so that her menu is different every single day. Yes, you guessed it — watch for my story on Melamore, out soon.

But this Thursday, you’ll have a chance to experience Albertucci’s creativity in Santa Cruz at a pop-up at Birichino’s downtown tasting room from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. or sellout. I attended the first pop-up there in early August and am still dreaming about the halibut crudo with perfect honeydew melon, perfumed with makrut lime zest and basil oil.

The menu for this event will be published on Birichino’s Instagram page and will include a Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala “which is being flown in from Italy” as we speak, Birichino winemaker John Locke told me in an email. Birichino is releasing the new 2023 vintage of “Hic Svnt Dracones” old vine rosé made with mourvèdre and cinsault for the occasion. No reservations needed — but prepared to wait a while and enjoy yourself, Italian style.


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I had a real ball at the Testicle Festival in Watsonville on Saturday. This community gathering was an opportunity for the whole family to hang loose, with live music and a homemade chicken dinner. A raffle and live auction had guests reaching into their coin purses, while cow-pie bingo tested everyone’s patience. The main draw: fried U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified bull testicles, aka Rocky Mountain oysters or cowboy caviar. Yes, I did try one, and I have to say that while it wasn’t bad, I wasn’t nuts for it — it tasted like a cross between calamari and chicken.

While the event was fun and games, its goal was to raise funds to support youth to pursue careers in agriculture, which faces some serious challenges as its workforce grays. Watch for a story later this week.


Ceviche de pescado con mango and tacos de camaron estilo gobernador at Miches and Ceviches.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

For months, friends told me to check out the fresh homemade ceviches, aguachiles and micheladas at the Miches and Ceviches food truck, but I didn’t get a chance until owners Perla Pineda and Sergio Ferreira opened a pop-up shop in Pleasure Point earlier this month. Now, I’m mad at myself for wasting time when I could have been eating its vibrant seafood. One dish I’ll be back for ASAP: the tacos de camaron.


My husband’s parents have a friend who farms watermelons in the Central Valley, and on Saturday he gifted them four enormous watermelons. These have a girth and weight that put the watermelons I’ve been purchasing to shame — each one was the size of a Halloween pumpkin and weighed between 15 and 20 pounds. We came home with two and have been happily chipping away at these behemoths by cutting off large, cold slices almost every time we walk into the kitchen. Although I usually dust my watermelon slices with large flakes of sea salt, these are so sweet they don’t really need it. But with this much watermelon to go through, I made a large batch of my favorite summer drink: watermelon agua fresca. To make it, puree or crush the watermelon flesh and pass it through a sieve to remove the pulp, and season the juice with lime juice and salt to taste. Pour it over ice and drink it out of a jam jar for an idyllic summer beverage any time of day.


The sriracha shortage is a very bad sign (The Atlantic)
These chefs long hid their eating disorders. So did I (San Francisco Chronicle)
Six reasons fast food is on the rise (Washington Post)


~ Lily