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A Perfect Paris Moment

It was a rainy Monday night in Paris-and Dieu merci (thank God!), a girls' night out. We were set to rendez-vous at the bar at the Hôtel Pont-Royal near the Rue du Bac.* Our ultimate destination was dinner at the hotel's restaurant, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.*

Created in 2003 by the iconic chef of the restaurant's name, L'Atelier gives a whole new meaning to the expression "counter service." Set up sushi-bar style, Robuchon's eatery is a chic red and black where 36 diners can choose from among an array of delectable small plates. Also out of the ordinary is a fine selection of wines served au verre (by the glass) rather than by the bottle.

By the time our group met up, it was about 10pm. We gave our name to the maître d' who informed us that our "table" would be ready in an hour. As we headed to the hotel bar, famous in its own right for decades of famous literary inhabitants, I happened to glance at the restaurant door. A woman with a mane of thick, blond hair was stepping into the hotel lobby, but before I could get a good look, she turned and went back into L'Atelier. Instantly, I asked the gentleman escorting us to the bar in French, "Was that who I think it was?" He smiled and nodded. Now I am not a stargazer by any stretch of the imagination but this was something else. He mentioned she was headed to the bar shortly so we settled into the comfy armchairs, ordered kir royals (a cocktail made of Champagne and blackcurrant liqueur), and waited.

In a few moments, there she was. The legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve. In the flesh. The star of Belle du jour, Le Dernier métro and Indochine. (If you haven't seen those films, they're French flick musts.)

She and her dining companion-it did not look like a romantic relationship-ordered coffee and dessert while we glanced subtly in her direction. Everyone in the bar knew the female icon was there but no one got up to ask for her autograph or her photo. It's a real compliment to Paris that une vedette (a star) of that caliber could be out for a nice evening without getting mobbed.

A little while later, the beautiful yet aging actress got up to leave. We sighed, rued the photo that wouldn't happen, and downed the rest of our cocktails. It was time for dinner.

Even though I have nothing tangible from the encounter, the image of Deneuve will remain in my mental scrapbook as a perfect Paris moment. And if the stars align one day in the future, it might be fun to add a glimpse of one of her male counterparts, maybe Gérard Depardieu, or Daniel Auteuil, or Thierry Lhermitte. But then again, I am usually looking at other things while in Paris so unless they were seated ten feet away in a bar, I might not even know they were there.

* The Hôtel Pont-Royal is located at 7 rue de Montalembert in the seventh arrondissement. www.hotel-pont-royal.com/
* The restaurant L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is located at 5 rue de Montalembert in the Hôtel Pont-Royal. www.joel-robuchon.com/. It is open 365 days a year for lunch and dinner. In the evening, reservations are taken for dinner at 6:30pm only. After that time, it is first come, first served.

June 11, 2008

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