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Top Chef Surprise in France...

La Pescalune Restaurant in Bargemon, France

Have you experienced this before? You find yourself in a situation that feels weird, unfamiliar, and not at all what you expected. You tell yourself… Ok, I am going to act maturely, stay calm, and be open-minded. It will either be the best or worst of (fill in the blank) experiences of my life. This is what happened to us on our recent trip to Bargemon, France.

(Verdon Gorge canyon)

After a full day of exploring the jaw-dropping Verdon Gorge canyon (which was unreal and we will write another blog just about that experience), we decided to spend a night in a small, sleepy town in the mountains, called Bargemon, before heading back to the French Riviera. Our bed and breakfast (a house where the owners were renting out their two spare rooms) was modest but very lovely. After settling in, we headed to town for dinner. It was a short 15-minute walk from our place.

(Our B&B)

It was early in the travel season and a Monday night, so we knew that dining options would be limited. Only two restaurants were going to be open that night. Well, one of them will (have to) do. We are in France after all, so how bad can it be, right? We found both places rather quickly since the town's center was not much bigger than a 2-bedroom apartment in New York City (about 850 square feet).

(Bargemon, France)

The first venue was just a bar, but the other looked very promising. So, the choice was made for us, and in 30 minutes (once the restaurant opened), we predicted we would have, "worst-case scenario," a mediocre French dinner. We waited right outside but 45 minutes later and the restaurant still wasn't open. I reluctantly made Sam knock on the door. A few minutes later, a head, that must have belonged to the restaurant's chef or owner, popped out from the window above us, shouting in broken English: "Je suis desole, no dinner, au revoir!"

I guess he spontaneously decided to take the night off. Great, it was close to 9 p.m., and now I am not only hungry but angry too.

As we hesitantly walked back towards the uninviting bar, we checked Google one last time for any other options nearby, but to no avail. Soon after, however, we came upon what looked like a very small "mom and pop" cafe, possibly a sandwich shop. It turned out to be a low-key restaurant that didn't even seem to have a name and was rather hidden. We walked in.

There were eight tables. All taken but one, and the seven other couples seemed to have just sat down as well. The good news was that we could finally eat, but it was evident that the owner didn't anticipate this tiny restaurant being full on Monday night. There seemed to be only one waitress working, who was also doubling as a hostess and a bartender.

"At this speed, we'll be eating by midnight," I sarcastically predicted. Sam was doing all he could to distract me, and to make the time pass quicker until this poor waitress could get to us. Sometime later, our waitress finally made it to our table to take our drink order. We still hadn't even seen the menu… "Lord, help us!"

Ten minutes later, we got to see the blackboard (aka the menu) passed around by all the couples in the restaurant, in an attempt to speed up the process. It was only in French, obviously, with three choices of appetizers and three options for the main course. I didn't understand it, but at this point, it didn't matter. I told Sam, "as long as it's not frogs or snails – everything else will do." We ordered "something."

I had worked in the restaurant business for years when I was in my twenties, and I truly felt sorry for this lady who was serving on us. There is nothing worse than expecting a slow night and instead of getting hit by a full restaurant, by yourself, and all at once. All 16 customers showed up in 10 minutes. She was doing all she could. She took everyone's order, one after another, table by table.

I also felt sorry for the poor chef back in the kitchen that would have to cook all these meals at once! But you would NOT believe what happened next. My jaw dropped to the floor.

Our waitress started to cook and prepare all the appetizers and dinners. Yes, you read that correctly. Never had I seen this scenario in my life. By this point, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry….

By the time we smelled a whiff of food from the kitchen, we both said: "This will either be the best or the worst of our experiences here in France."

(Few dishes from our amazing dinner at La Pescalune)

The appetizers for all the tables came out at the same time, and the same went for the main meals and desserts. The entire restaurant ate each course together. It was so bizarre. But the food not only looked like it should be a masterpiece in a Louvre museum, but it was also unbelievably tasty. Every single dish we ate was an explosion of flavors. We were really overjoyed in the end. Before we left, we gratefully thanked the smiling young lady who so diligently served and cooked for us. Her name was Virginie.

We were so puzzled by what happened that night. Not until the next morning when we relayed our experience to the owners of our bed & breakfast, did we learn that we were extremely lucky even to get a table in this restaurant.

Virginie, the owner/waitress/bartender/chef, participated in a prestigious TV show called Top Chef in France a few years back. She does everything, like a one-woman show, every night. Her restaurant is called La Pescalune, whose address is 13 rue de la Resistance, 83830 Bargemon, France. If you happen to be in the area, we strongly recommend you go and check it out.

The ultimate lesson to us (or mainly me) was to stay patient and open-minded, as the odds are 50/50 for terrible versus mind-blowing experiences when you find yourself in an unfamiliar, odd situation. Sam and I agreed that this was probably the best dinner we had, not only on our trip through France but of the entire year. The only regret that night was that we didn't take a photo with this superwoman. But if you ask me, I think it's a good excuse to go back to France, wouldn't you agree?

~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.

(Verdon Gorge)

(View from our B&B in the morning)

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