Arielle greets us at the door, face beaming, eyes bright under the frame of wiry gray hair. "Hallo," she says, in her thick French accent, reaching out to take our hands in hers. A few steps behind her, MariJo peeks out with what we mistake for shyness. "Bon Soir!" she calls.
"Bon soir," we say, amused and delighted by the effusiveness of the greeting, and I ask if we can book a table for about an hour from now.
"But of course!" says Arielle, and writes my name in her book. "Voila! We'll see you again about 7:00."
In doing my restaurant research before heading out to Breckenridge, I'd put Le Petit Paris at the top of my list. The reviews were pretty good, and since a nice Parisian bistro is my favorite type of restaurant, I'm always on the lookout for another one to add to my collection. Lynn and I had gone out for dinner with friends the night before, so on our last night in Breckenridge we were looking for something a little intimate, casual and romantic, and this seemed to fit the bill.
As we walked back out onto the street, we were both grinning. "I have a good feeling about this," I said.
We did a bit more strolling along Main Street, the sun out now after the earlier snow showers, lighting up the last bits of day. We stopped at the Crown Tavern for a whisky, sitting in comfy chairs by the fireplace, talking about how fine and fun the conference had been. Great speakers, superb location, wonderful friends. We'd had a fine time the night before singing and playing until late.
Back at Le Petit Paris, Arielle led us to a comfortable corner table and we embarked on one of the most delightful dining experiences we've ever had. The food & wine were superb, the place itself wonderfully cozy and completely Parisian, but les soeurs themselves were what lifted it into another plane.
Arielle is the elder -- sixty next year, as she told us several times -- the owner of the place, three years now in Colorado, having gone through hope, betrayal, misery, wonder and redemption to get to the place she is now. MariJo (which we choose to believe is diminutive for Marie Josephine), of the long blond ponytail, slender in blue jeans and her crisp white waiter's shirt, is a fountain of smiles and gentle laughter, emphasizing that we have all of the time in the world.
Over the course of the next couple of hours we have a remarkable meal and gentle, funny, serious, deep conversation with each of the sisters, conversation that never seems intrusive, never gets in the way of the romantic intimacy of the evening that Lynn and I are having, but that tugs us gently into their world. MariJo helps me with my french, particularly the tricky tongue action necessary to get "grenouilles" just right. We hear from Arielle about the circumstances that led to the restaurant being shuttered for three months last year, and how it was the community that rallied round her to fix things and get her back up and running when she thought all was lost. " I do this now for the people of Breckenridge."
We discover that MariJo, for all of her astonishing beauty, is quite the natural comedienne, and when she falls into an imitation of a Colorado redneck or a Parisian FN, putting her hands on her hips and puffing out her cheeks in indignation we're ready to fall out of our chairs with laughter. She's telling us that, having lived all of her life in Paris, she was a little nervous about coming out to small town Colorado. "As soon as I open my mouth," she tells us, confidentially, "they can tell I'm not from around here." But everyone has been fabulous. Yes, there are those small-minded people, but you find them everywhere and there aren't enough of them to let it worry you. She takes her doggies out for walks in the mountains and thinks she's moved to someplace very much like heaven.
We talk with Arielle about wine, and find that, like Lynn, she doesn't care for white wines, believes that you can find the right red wines to go with anything, and that she spends a lot of time picking out just the right wines for her restaurant. "I'm no sommelier," she says several times (she says everything several times), "But I pay attention to wine."
MariJo does the desserts and is rhapsodic when describing them. Often, I skip dessert, but I knew that in this place I didn't dare -- her disappointment would've been heartbreaking. When we ask her to help us select, she asks us many, many questions before she chooses for us. There is no shyness about her when she brings them out. She knows they're fabulous.
Eventually, after coffee and cognac, we've about run out of reasons to stay, although we would if we could. They come with us to the door, and we kiss on both cheeks and can't quite let the conversation go. It is inconceivable to me that we won't see them again.
Finally, we're on the street, strolling back to the lodge. Did we just have dinner in a restaurant? No, Arielle and MariJo just took us in for a few hours.