Jill Mitchell is a native Californian who has been living in Provence (in Venelles, just outside Aix) for three years. She specializes in selling French vintage school posters and other antique goodies online at stores.ebay.com/The-French-Wall. She also shares her buying tips and secrets with fellow Americans on her Vintage Buying Tours in Provence and Paris (LeTrip.org). Because Jill gets around so much, I asked her to suggest One Restaurant She Loves. This is what she sent.
I always love visiting the Camargue. It’s another France over there--spicy and lively, down to earth, full of folklore. And I recently found an awesome restaurant there called Chez Bob, which feels sort of like a Camarguais home away from home. I went there on a wintery day with my French boyfriend, Pascal, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect for lunch on a cold day in the country.
If you ever make the journey yourself, a gentle warning: Chez Bob is in the boonies and you would do well to take your navigating seriously.
Once you arrive, you'll be greeted by either Jean Guy Castello or his wife Josy, who've been the owners since Bob passed away 10 years ago. You'll be escorted into a very cozy room complete with roaring fireplace, big wood tables and many indications that the owners greatly appreciate local Camargue culture, particularly the bullfighting and guitar playing variety.
As you're seated, notice that your first course is already on your table: overflowing regional specialties that are really a meal on their own. Josy asks you what kind of wine you would like (the wine list is top notch and from their region only).
Jean Guy (he's the fireplace chef, while Josy cooks everything else in the kitchen) comes to tell you the three or four main courses on offer today, none of which would please a vegetarian. After you've raved for 20 minutes about the wine and the main dish, dessert comes out--the best pannacotta with apricot coulis ever created.
How do I say this? Each course of our meal really seemed to have some of the soul of the place and of Camargue in it. It was like tasting the quality of this remarkable region.
On certain Sunday afternoons, Chez Bob is dedicated to music and dance, and live bands come in to play. I've yet to attend one of these afternoons, but I have heard that it's quite the happening, attracting celebrities and local paysans alike. Check the Chez Bob website for a current calendar.
For your first visit, I recommend going for lunch rather than dinner; Chez Bob is truly is a challenge to find. Plus, lunches have a wonderful earthy atmosphere. Dinners are also something to experience with yet another fantastic ambience, but be prepared for what is likely to be a longish drive home after.
And one more hint: the food is very plentiful, delicious and filling. There is only the four-course prix fixe menu (40 euros) so bring a healthy appetite. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday.
Chez Bob is an excellent halte on your way to discovering more of this region. Once you're well fed and warmed by the fire, continue on to see some of the local marvels. The salt hills around Salin de Giraud, for example, are beautiful to behold. On my Foodie Tours, I bring people to La Baleine, a famous saltworks nearby (odds are you can find La Baleine salt in the specialty section at your grocery store), to see how Fleur de Sel is made. Pink flamingos, Camargue horses, French cowboys and a different view of the Mediterranean are some of the other wonders to take in on your day trip. Bonne Aventure!
Route du Sambuc
Photo montages by Jill Mitchell. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org