ONE OF THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL CULINARY EXPERIENCES in the foothills isn’t listed in a Zagat dining guide, bookable on OpenTable.com, or even marked by a sign on the door. It is found inside a cozy, 126-year-old miner’s cabin tucked off Broad Street in Nevada City.
Each month, a reservation-only supper club called Polly’s Paladar serves some of the most exceptional food in our region in an intimate setting. Each dinner features a different menu and chef—including culinary “rockstars” from San Francisco, New York or the coast of Mexico, as well as from our region—with imaginative food themes such as “Hot and Saucy,” “Elegance” or “The Big Easy.
Now in its sixth year, Polly’s Paladar is the creation of Megan McCollam, a well-connected food lover, licensed caterer and ebullient host. “We collaborate with organic farms, chefs and artists to provide a delightful experience,” as she puts it.
The menus typically feature fresh food from over a dozen local farms, including First Rain Farm, Mountain Bounty Farm, Nevada County Free Range Beef, and James Ranch. The dining room often is decorated with art from local artists including Sarah Coleman, Aram Larsen, Tahiti Pehrson, Jennifer Rain and Urulsa Xanthe Young.
Here’s a sampling from various menus: Grilled chicory salad with walnuts, aged Gouda and hard cider vinaigrette; celery soup with crab and Meyer lemon; coho salmon with squash, smoked butter, frisee; Fresno chili, kale-pepita crisps; herb brined and grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream, crumb topping and brandy caramel sauce.
Megan represents a new generation of chefs, caterers, restaurateurs and farmers who are resettling our region, adding new energy and sophisticated offerings while honoring the local history—a recurring theme in our magazine. Licensed, “above ground” supper clubs such as Polly’s Paladar also exemplify the boom in the sharing economy. Think Airbnb or Uber but for food.
Megan started Polly’s Paladar in Nevada City in 2012. Polly is her grandmother and a paladar refers to small, family-run restaurants, often in a converted part of a home.
Her business has grown thanks largely to word-of-mouth. She also received a well-deserved mention in Outside magazine, when it named Nevada City one of the nation’s “best river towns” in 2012. Her dinner club membership now stands at about 2,000 and she has hosted, or “curated,” over 54 dinners.
Guests visit PollysPaladar.com, purchase a dinner ticket and pay a $1 membership fee upon arrival. At Polly’s Paladar, the living room of Megan’s home is transformed into a magical setting. The dinners consist of four seatings of 28 guests during one weekend each month. Guests are locals but also come from Reno, Sacramento and the Bay Area.
Guest chefs prepare the dinner from scratch in a licensed commercial kitchen. Along with her staff, Megan is detail oriented and a bonafide “people person.”
Megan’s house is steeped in Gold Rush lore. One of its earliest residents was a Gold Rush-era pioneer, Mary Elizabeth Beedle. Megan honored this “pioneer, mother and devoted wife” at a winter dinner celebrating the fifth anniversary of Polly’s Paladar.
The menu was: lobster, white sturgeon caviar, dill aioli, purple endive; steak tartar, lemon vinaigrette, seasonal micro salad; charred leek and potato, duck skin cracklins, chive oil and smoked paprika oil; pork belly, crispy shallot flowers, yellow beet gratin, plum gastrique; and deconstructed pineapple upside down cake. The guest chef was Zack Perszyk, who graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, was sous chef at Ozumo in the Bay Area and now lives in the foothills.
Other chefs include Dany Lamote from Todos Santos, Mexico; Jordan Grosser and Ted Fleury of Stag Dining in San Francisco; Jesse Koide of Pink Zebra, a renowned pop-up restaurant in San Francisco; Japanese-born Sylvan Mishima Brackett of Rintaro in San Francisco; and local talent such as chefs Tom Bevitori, Ariana Goldschneider, Evan Scott and Matthew Wich.
Other times, Megan collaborates with local restaurants. One of her dinners was a “Beer Banquet” with chef Shana Maziarz and David Cowie, the co-owners of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in Nevada City. Some dinners are fundraisers, such as one for Sierra Harvest on June 16-17.
Flower arrangements for the tables are from locals such as Deena Miller of Sweet Roots Farms in Grass Valley. Megan’s teenage daughter, Amani Mudd, offers babysitting upstairs during the dinner. “What makes the Paladar different is that we are all involved, in one way or another, by nurturing each others gifts and talents on a recurring platform,” Megan says.
For more information and reservations visit PollysPaladar.com.
(Photos: Rob Totoonchie)