Quick Take:

On the new menu at Solaire at Hotel Paradox, one dairy-, sugar- and gluten-free dessert exemplifies new executive chef Stefen Shatto’s ethos: to create a special experience regardless of dietary preferences.

If I asked you, “When was the last time you ate at Solaire?” you’d probably say it’s been a while. Maybe you haven’t been back since the original chef left in 2016 and the menu sadly started to go a little downhill. Or you ordered a cocktail and a snack while hanging out by the pool, once open to the public pre-pandemic.

Whether you’ve never visited the restaurant inside Hotel Paradox, one of Santa Cruz’s few midrange hotels, located on Ocean Street, or it’s been a few years, it’s time to stop in. The restaurant has not only been completely renovated into a whimsical yet elegant nature-filled space, it boasts a fresh menu courtesy of new executive chef Stefen Shatto.

Although just 33 years old, Shatto brings 15 years of experience in high-end dining and hospitality and has enthusiastically taken the helm at the Paradox. One of his goals is to create a menu that reflects the culture of Santa Cruz, both by incorporating local ingredients and by making it as inclusive as possible. Shatto took the reins at Solaire over the summer, and over the past few months has gradually incorporated more and more of his own dishes into the menu; now, it’s almost entirely Shatto-fied.

Anyone, regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences, should be able to have a special experience at Solaire, says Shatto, a former vegan. Although there are plenty of meat-focused dishes, there are just as many vegetarian and vegan options. And many of the meat dishes can be made with non-meat substitutions. For example, the honey sriracha chicken wings can be made with cauliflower.

Additionally, the menu is nearly gluten-free, and contains little if any processed sugar; Shatto sweetens with maple syrup or honey produced by bees the hotel keeps on its roof. House-cured pickles, fermented vegetables and olive oil are used liberally; dairy is not.

Both times I’ve eaten at Solaire, I was impressed by everything I ordered, but there’s one dish I couldn’t resist ordering twice: a pretty dessert that Shatto calls “The Birds and the Bees Nest” ($13).

This dessert is made without added sugars, dairy or gluten but is anything but a punchline. A ring-shaped chocolate pot de crème made with maple syrup and coconut milk sits on top of a hazelnut and date crust, then covered with a housemade white chocolate shell made with coconut milk, coconut milk powder and coconut oil and colored with matcha. Finally, the dessert is decorated with a delicate tuile cookie made with dairy-free butter, gluten-free flour and stiffened with aquafaba and shaped into honeycomb, bees and flowers. This complex pastry is finished with a drizzle of Paradox honey and fresh berries.

Crack through the cookie and the hardened white chocolate to the silky chocolate and chewy crust within, and it’s hard not to swoon. It’s beautiful and luxurious — a special finish that is sure to elicit delight from everyone at the table.

FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect that this dessert is not vegan because it contains honey.

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Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...