Bernard’O celebrates 20 years of fine dining in Rancho Bernardo
By Peijean Tsai
Before owners Bernard and Diana Mougel had even picked a name for their new Rancho Bernardo restaurant, eager customers had already decided for them.
That name was Bernard’O, an affectionate nod to Bernard himself, who was well known locally for his work at the Rancho Bernardo Inn.
“People named it before we even opened,” said Diana Mougel, adding the name quickly became popular. “When he worked at the RB Inn, they would call him ‘Bernardo,’” she added. “And when he decided to open a restaurant, they just started calling the restaurant that, and we said, ‘Should we go with it, or should we stop it?’”
“The upside is, it’s a catchy name,” said Bernard Mougel, noting it fits their location in Rancho Bernardo. “The downside is people think we’re Italian,” he joked.
When the Mougels opened Bernard’O restaurant in May 1992, they envisioned an intimate, family-friendly bistro to fill an unmet local need for French cuisine. What they brought to the community was fine dining at affordable prices in an elegant but cozy atmosphere.
Twenty years later, Bernard’O is an award-winning, Zagat-rated restaurant and a Rancho Bernardo institution frequently honored as a top restaurant in local publications. Its expansive wine list, with over 200 selections, has earned it the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2000, according to the Mougels.
“When we opened we were busy the first month, and business never slowed down,” said Bernard Mougel, noting the combination of consistently great food, service, atmosphere and value made it successful from the start.
The most popular dishes are the New Zealand lamb rack, center cut filet mignon and seared scallops. Popular starters include the mushroom ravioli and red and yellow beet salad, and for dessert, the crème brulee and warm chocolate coulant.
Approximately six months ago, the restaurant added a tapas menu because of the dining trend toward small plates and also due to the economy. There is a discounted happy hour Mondays through Saturdays and an “Under Twenty Club” menu that features entrees such as beef bourguignon and grilled flat iron steak for $19.
The Mougels attribute much of their success to having excellent chefs, including their best to date, Vincent Viale, who joined Bernard’O last year from Tapenade in La Jolla.
The Mougels have always made it a priority to be at the restaurant so they can oversee operations and interact directly with customers. That personal interaction has also been vital to the restaurant’s longevity, they said. Even their two daughters, Jacqueline and Lilliana, became familiar faces as they worked in the restaurant.
“We are there all the time, and people appreciate that,” said Bernard Mougel, noting they did not want to open a second restaurant because they wanted to maintain the focus on one. “Regular people know they will see Diana or Bernard when they come for dinner.”
Originally, the restaurant was half the size it is today with limited dining space. Today it seats over 140 people across four areas, including the main dining room, the wine cellar room (also available for private parties and meetings), the bar area and the patio.
Bernard’O has always been in the same shopping center at the corner of Pomerado Road and Rancho Bernardo Road. In September 1997, the restaurant closed because the center was torn down and rebuilt. Bernard’O reopened in May 1999 in a new spot closer to street traffic.
When not at the restaurant, Bernard Mougel, who is from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, is focused on training and is a member of the United States duathlon team (biking and running). An award-winning athlete, he has been competed in 14 duathlon world championships.
Bernard’O (858-487-7171) is located at 12457 Rancho Bernardo Road.
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