St Maarten/St Martin
19 December 2003 Newsletter

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Arrival: We arrived on 15 Dec, flying in from San Juan on American. The flight to SJU was full, but the ongoing flight to SXM carried only about 30%. Immigration moved along quickly, our bags arrived shortly, our Esperance Rental car was waiting, and we were at Sapphire Beach Club in about 45 minutes.  Whatever problems the government was having with the new passport system seem to have been worked out.
Weather: It is warm, 80's during the day, but we rarely use the A/C at night. It had been quite rainy and the hills, even on Anguilla - visible from our bedroom - are quite green. The rain continues, but mostly at night, mercifully.
Beach: Cupecoy is there. The NW end has pools and not much sand, but there is quite a bit heading south toward the monolith. There is even some at the next tiny cove and a bit behind Ocean Club and Sapphire.  
New since last year: George of Belle Époque (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/marigot/belle_epoque) has taken over the space at the far end of the marina formerly occupied by Restaurant des Artistes and turned it into a sumptuous space serving Moroccan and French cuisine. Unfortunately, Jean Dupont next door, has closed leaving an empty and dark spot on the walkway. At the other end of the marina, Makao has opened on the second floor. They have a good view of the marina and the cityscape leading up to the hills and serve French and Asian (including sushi) cuisine. David Fioni has opened La Gondola in the space formerly occupied by Ferrari at Atlantis Casino. Marco is still the chef and the menu is much the same, though a bit pricier. He even took the neon sign for La Gondola, but he left the La Raviolina sign and restaurant back in Sandy Ground. It's still serving. Charolais moved from one end of Simpson Bay to the other, opening in the new complex at Maho, La Terrace. Cigal Garden has joined them in the building. Across the street, Bernard of Paris Bistro has opened Wellbeing. I know it sounds like tofu on a bed of bean sprouts, but it is really a direct translation of bien-etre, which would be better translated as living well. Read the review under restaurants to see what we (and they) really mean. Pineapple Pete moved into the former Charolais space in the Three Palms Plaza. No signs of life at Perroquet and the neon parrot seems to have flown away. Bombay Brasserie has not been open on any evening that we have been in Grand Case. Chez Martine has been bought by the same family that owns Fish Pot and opened last week. La Marine is back in operation in Grand Case with Camille, the son of Dominic at St Severin as manager/maitre'd and Gilles, the chef from four years ago, back in the kitchen.
All the usual suspects:  All the big ones seem to have made it through the year and Sang's in Pburg has opened their new building with ample parking across from Bobby's Marina. Food Express has added an outpost in the new Maho complex, offering a wider selection and better prices than the small shop at Mullet that has serviced Maho and Mullet for years. We went to US Import at the Magasin du Pont near the French bridge and stocked up on cheese. The Tomme Noire was about $12.50 per kilo and the Tomme de Savoie was pushing $15. Tomme originally meant a hunk, a round, or merely a piece of cheese, but has taken on the connotation of cheese coming from herds of a certain area, further signifying that the cheese is made by a professional cheesemaker, collecting milk from several farmers. The inference being that a professional would make better cheese than a farmer. In the US where the professionals are giving us "American-type slices", essentially plastic individually wrapped in more plastic, this is patently untrue. Luckily, France, as is true in many cases, has taken a different approach. The Tomme Noire was a lighter color, essentially cream, (the noire refers to the black waxy covering) and definitely was lighter in fat/cream content. The Tomme de Savoie was straw-colored and a bit smoother in texture. Both were quite good and were made even better by the addition of liberal quantities of Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grain (about $10), also from US Import. Chaumes was $25 per kilo and Reblochon was about $18.
We stopped in to see Sylvain at Vinissimo (www.SXM-Shopping.com/vinissimo) picking up two cases of good wine, mostly 96 Burgundy, although they don't have too much left. Nonetheless, it's better than our attempt to buy some older vintages in the Boston area last summer. We ordered about ten different cases of 2000's for cellaring and ending up getting only two of them. Vinissimo is offering 1.1 dollars per Euro, considerably better than the banks, and as most of their stock comes directly from France, somebody is taking a hit on this arrangement.
SXM-Info and Antoine Restaurant (www.AntoineRestaurant.com) have concluded their contest and the winner is Flo Pflaster. Thanks to all who entered and signed up for this newsletter. A new contest has started with a $100 gift certificate from Rainbow Café (www.rainbow-cafe.com). Anyone who has signed up for this newsletter can go to the site and send in an email. tell me you are already signed up and I'll only enter you in the contest. Somebody will get $100 off one of the best meals on the island. It might as well be you!
SXM-Info and Rainbow Cafe (www.Rainbow-Cafe.com) are running a contest for a $100 gift certificate. Just go to their website, find the link to sign up for the SXM-Info newsletter, click it, sign up, and you are entered. Obviously everybody that is getting this email is already signed up. Just tell me you are already on our mailing list, and I'll leave you signed up, and add your name to the contest list. You could get $100 off your next meal for two at Rainbow. Even if you don't win, you should check out the great menu and wine list. Add in a great view and good service and you will have one of the best meals you can find on the island.
Recently the Euro hit a new high against the dollar, a 24% premium. It's still there. In the last couple years the Euro has moved from being worth 15% less than the dollar to 24% more. That has made the French side considerably more expensive. My calculator says that's a 46% increase. We are not the only ones to notice as several French restaurants are offering better exchange rates than the banks. California is offering 1 to 1 on cash, Rainbow is doing 1 to 1, even on credit cards. Not exactly a restaurant, but Lipstick, the perfumery, also was giving 1 to 1 on credit cards. I didn't see any sign stating this, so possibly it was our good looks or the $350 that we spent.
On the night we arrived, we went to Hot Tomatoes (www.HotTomatoesSXM.com). Close (always good after a day of traveling), largest restaurant parking lot on the island, and good, interesting food in a wide open environment. Gabe was holding down the fort as Brad, Tekkie, and the baby were a bit under the weather. The menu has expanded a bit and the wine supplier has changed, changing the list entirely, and for the better. Now there is an Italian wine for the pizzas, even if it is a $33 Chianti. Yes, I did have my favorite pizza, the Anguilla Piggy Pie, with home-made sausage and caramelized onions. Great for dinner with enough left over for breakfast, although I had finished the Chianti. Martha had the salad with jerk shrimp, quite tasty, and healthy. With the $33 bottle of wine, a bottle of water, and a 15% tip, the meal came to only $73. The dock/marina at the back is finished. We dined on the outside terrace in the soft night air and gazed out over the lagoon as the northeast received its second two-foot snowstorm in two weeks.
We had lunch at Chesterfield's Restaurant (www.chesterfieldsrestaurant.com). Good food, great views over the bay, and lots of parking - very hard to find in Pburg. I had a Philly cheese steak and Martha grazed on a conch salad. Add a couple of beers and a 15% tip and one gets a $25 lunch on the terrace overlooking the water.
Traveling is such a hassle that we still weren't in great shape on Wednesday night, so we headed in the other direction to Marigot and parked at the cemetery, noting that much of the parking lot was full. As we walked past the restaurants, we noted that most of them were empty, even at 8:30. It seems the cars belonged to people attending a function at the Hospitality Center at the far end of the parking lot. In Tropicana, however, the tables were full and there were people standing in line. Petite Auberge des Iles was also doing well. A 12 Euro veal ragout on the specials board brought back fond memories. At the end of the marina, BDLG, Galion, Main a la Pate, and Village had a few people and Belle Époque (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/marigot/belle_ep[oque) seemed rather full. We had to sit on the highest level on the terrace. The view is much the same and the temperature was perfect, no breeze required. Belle Époque reminds me of bistros in Lyon, large menus, large portions, small prices, and fast service. We went with the wine of the week: 20 Euros for a Burgundian pinot noir, which was, as the waiter said, not bad. I had a tuna steak with a mango and onion sauce off the special board. Sounds weird as I usually associate fruit-based sauces with game, which having a diet of bark and acorns tends to produce a dry meat. But in actuality, there is not a lot of fat in a fish, so it was a rather tasty concoction and when accompanied by rice pilaf, carrots, and cauliflower in a cream sauce, quite a filling meal for 14 euros. Martha had a Salade Landaise, consisting of smoked duck breast, lardons (crisp bacon-like quarter-inch cubes), and crisp fried potatoes on a bed of interesting greens. With a bottle of water and the included service charge, our bill was only $61, aided somewhat by a more favorable exchange rate than that found at the banks.
On Wednesday night we dined at Mambo (www.Grandcase.com/mambo starting with a house-smoked salmon special that was quite good. We had a glass of the crisp Quincy sauvignon blanc with the salmon. A 98 Mercurey Ch de Chamirey accompanied the fishermen's stew and a beef tenderloin with girolles mushrooms and mashed potatoes with truffles. Aided by the favorable exchange rate, the bill came to less than $100, and all concerned were quite happy with their meals.
Thursday evening found us at Wellbeing in the Maho complex. As mentioned earlier, it translates better as living well, possibly in the connotation of "Living well is the best revenge". Add in the tagline for the restaurant "World Gourmet Restaurant" and one begins to see what they were trying to say. It helps to see the establishment and sit down for a meal. First, the owners are Bernard from Paris Bistro and his wife Muriel, who runs the front of the house, and Thierry from Hibiscus, who has set up the menu. All three collaborated on the interior design, which is amazing. The entire space was gutted and new fixtures and kitchen equipment were installed. The entrance is graced by an improbably large piece of driftwood from Grand Case that has been whitewashed. This holds the menu for passersby to ponder. The tables consist of custom made wrought iron bases sprouting more driftwood uprights that hold up a two foot square display box topped with glass. There are about a dozen tables and each has a motif from different areas of the world. There is a California table, a spice table, a Cuban table, and many more. The food also ranges about. There are a few specials every evening, eight aps ranging from $9 to $15 including a goat cheese salad with bacon cubes and pecans and a flan of foie gras with asparagus. There are ten seafood dishes including salmon, sole, sushi, grouper in a saffron sauce, and lobster. Prices ranged from $20 to $33, although the lobster and sole were market-priced. the six meat dishes ranged from $23 to $29 featuring a chicken and lobster dish, a pot au feu (a stew containing chicken, beef, and pork with a fiery horseradish on the side), rack of lamb, and osso bucco. Seven desserts include an assortment of creme brullees (one of our favorites at Hibiscus) and a chocolate. The wine list starts with several wines by the glass in the $5-7 range, ranges through twenty whites to about thirty reds. They start in the $20's, quickly reach the 30's, and don't stop until they reach the 1995 Petrus for a mere $1,7000. If this is of interest to you, send me an email when you are dining, I'd like a taste. We had a crab and avocado dish atop fresh tomato coulis from the specials list to start with a glass of pinot grigio. Good crab, good avocado, interesting sauce, and a nice presentation. Martha had the pot au feu and I tried the osso bucco with a bottle of the Gran Coronas from Spain (about $25). The dishes were well-prepared and tasty, but the presentations were over the top. A website is under construction and the photos are there: www.SXM-restaurants.com/simpson/wellbeing. Dessert was another Thierry concoction: perfect, fresh strawberries in  "vervein ice tea with French bread". After a peek at the French menu, we saw that the dish was accompanied by "pain perdu", literally "lost bread", but what we in the US call "French toast". Vervein in French is verbena in English, or lemon verbena, which is sometimes used to make tea. It has a very potent lemon flavor and must be used sparingly, but complements the sweetness of the strawberries and the French toast. All in all, it was an interesting evening: interesting food in a wildly decorated dining room with food from around the world translated through Thierry's senses and served by Sophie (French, and previously at Le Cottage) in a dining room run by Muriel, whose father was German. Bernard arrived as the night was ending and we had a great time discussing food, wine and language.
Friday lunch was an over-the-top extravaganza at La California in Grand Case (www.Grandcase.com/california, under construction). It's an eclectic, colorful place on the water that's open from morning 'till night serving crepes, pizzas, and lots of appetizers. However, there is a complete menu and a specials board that produced our lunch that started with frog's legs and a salad topped with brie baked in a crepe. The frog legs were perfect in a creamy garlic sauce laid out around a centerpiece that started with carrot and zucchini strips, topped with a touch of polenta, several zucchini and eggplant slices, the final one sprouting a sprig of dill. It was not only interesting given the colors, textures, and depth, but quite tasty. The salad was also quite good, but what does one expect from brie, especially baked in Alan's crepe? The over the top part is that we went on from there to have lotte and shrimp in a saffron sauce and lamb chops, like the frog's legs, in a creamy garlic sauce. Lotte is called the poor man's lobster as it has very white flesh and has a similar chewy texture. In the early 70's, I used to have lotte at Maison Robert in Boston a couple times per month. It was cheap because US fishermen generally threw the ugly thing back overboard. The Dutch name for the fish, translated to English, is sea devil. The English call it monkfish, and given their love of the Catholic church, the name seems similar to the Dutch. Times change, Maison Robert is closing on Valentine's Day 2004, and much of the world now eats the fish, whatever it may be called, with good reason. Add saffron and the reason is even better. The lamb chops were tasty, done to my specification, and accompanied by a potato gratin and several veg: zucchini, carrot, and sweet potato. With a bottle of Bouchard's non-vintage Borgogne (perfectly good and quite reliable) and a bottle of water, the bill was just a touch north of 100 euros, which via the magic of an accommodating restaurateur, became about $100. That's a lot for lunch, but we didn't have much for dinner. It's a lovely place to while away the afternoon, as they have beach chairs. Stop in for lunch and sleep it off in a chair on sleepy Grand Case Bay.