St Maarten/St Martin
17 January 2004 Newsletter

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Weather: Sunday 11 Jan was a beautiful day, high thin clouds and warm. A bit of rain the rest of the week, almost all in the morning, waking us up at 6AM, but gone before we really got moving. By Wednesday morning it had cleared and our sail to Anguilla was glorious. Thursday through Saturday were glorious beach days.
Beaches: Orient: Things were jumping at Pedro's, live band on that beautiful Sunday. Not much beach right at the restaurant, but there were chairs and umbrellas on their beach to the right, toward the nude section. Pretty good sand from The Perch on down to Papagayo's. Nettle Bay has plenty of sand, at least at Layla's.
New feature: As many of you know, much of the newsletter is posted on various bulletin boards or put on the SXM-Info site. There are some photos of the week's activities at a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. There is no link from any SXM-Info website and I won't post the address on any bulletin board. See fabulous shots of the trip we took on Iemanja, a 100 foot ketch, to Sandy Island in Road Bay off Anguilla.
Grand Case News: The first Tuesday night entertainment on main street turned out quite well. We lied last week. We were not at  Le Cottage (www.RestaurantLeCottage.com) on Tuesday, but next door at L'Auberge Gourmande (www.GrandCase.com/aubergegourmand). I got my reservations mixed up and it worked out to our benefit as Tanny and the Boys, a local old-time string band group whose photo graces the red GSM phone cards, was playing in the courtyard of Tastevin across the street.  See the photos on the Grand Case website (www.GrandCase.com).
Vinissimo (www.SXM-Shopping.com/vinissimo) did have some more Mommessin Burgundies from 1992. We bought the last two (Charmes-Chambertin) for $45 each. There is an old quote, possibly apocryphal, that goes, "I don't remember the place, I don't remember the girl, but I do remember the wine. It was Chambertin" or Champs de Bertin or the fields of the monk Bertin, who in addition to serving God, served mankind some pretty good wine. If wine talk bores you, skip forward, but Bertin's fields were in the town of Gevrey just north of Beaune, the ancient capital of Burgundy. Note that this is not Givry, south of Burgundy, and the favorite wine of King Henry IV. I like it also, but they don't put my name on the label. Gevrey, like many other towns in the region, noticing that wines from its most famous vineyard sold well, decided to change its name to Gevrey-Chambertin. Thus, any wine grown in the entire town could be called Gevrey-Chambertin, possibly garnering some of the cachet (and price) of Chambertin for themselves. It was further decreed that certain highly regarded vineyards could prefix the name Chambertin to their vineyard name, leading to Chambertin-Clos de Beze, while other lesser vineyards could append the name, as in Charrmes-Chambertin, our recent purchase. Of course, everybody in the town is Gevrey-Chambertin. If this gives you brain cramps and sounds like theologians arguing about angels dancing on pins, consider the origins of this predicament: the fields of the monk Bertin. 
The Inn at Cupecoy is sponsoring the current contest. Just go to their website (www.theinnatcupecoy.com), 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 for the newsletter. Just tell me you are already on our mailing list, and I'll leave you signed up for the newsletter and add your name to the contest list. You could get $100 off your next meal for two at Citrus. Even if you don't win, you'll get to look over a lovely Inn. The photographs on the site were all done by local photographer Jim Johnson, whose work graces many of the glossy magazines here.
At the New Year, the Euro hit a new high against the dollar, almost a  30% premium and hasn't  fallen much. French side restaurants with many costs in dollars and many American (or Canadian) clients have been offering more favorable exchange rates. To our list of 1 to 1 restaurants that include California, Escapade, and Rainbow, we can now add Balaou. Many restaurants will offer you a better rate than you can get on your credit card, so you can allow them to convert and charge in dollars. Note that California only offers 1 to 1 on cash purchases. Keep St Martin green, bring dollars!
We went to Antoine Restaurant (www.AntoineRestaurant.com) for a lovely lunch overlooking Great Bay. The Dutch side has done some amazing things in Pburg over the last ten years. The beach is beautiful and the boardwalk is quite nice. See the photos on www.Philipsburg-Info.com. There's also a new photo on the Antoine site showing the 12 meter boats racing in Great Bay taken from our lunch table. The end of the menu page shows our lunch specials: stuffed jumbo shrimp and a tuna steak with a slightly spicy sauce. We had a bottle of Bouchard's non-vintage Burgundy and had an enjoyable couple hours with lunch and the great views.
On Saturday night we went to Le Cottage (www.RestaurantLecottage.com) in Grand Case. Bruno has bought new tables and napery, as every other restaurant followed his lead in blues and yellows. They also redid the pretty tile lobster tank. It's now a beautiful piece of woodwork. Stephane, the wine steward, brought a slightly sweet Jurançon as we studied the menu. We choose an ap off the specials menu, starting with a foie gras and duck confit layered between a pair of crackers containing pistachios. The dinners were a pheasant and partridge with wild mushrooms special and the quail on toast with crispy potatoes from the menu. Stephane suggested a light burgundy and brought a Chassagne-Montrachet. A cup of coffee and a balloon of Armagnac finished a beautiful evening. The food was, as usual, wonderful, and if Bruno and Stephane can't cheer you up, nobody can. Via a 1 to 1.1 exchange rate, the bill came to a touch over $100. Look for Le Cottage in the $100 gift certificate contest soon.
Sunday lunch was a tough drive over the hill to the Veranda at the Meridien complex in Anse Marcel. The views are beautiful looking back over Pinel, Green Key, and Orient Bay to St Barts and almost as nice when you crest the hill and see Anguilla in the background and the beautifully landscaped Meridien in the foreground. There are some photos here: www.SXM-info.com/SXM-beaches/index.html#anse_marcel. The Veranda is run by Bruno and Stephane from Cottage, although they are both back at Cottage for dinner! We took it easy for lunch and just had a think crust Pizza Ibiza (sausage, red peppers, onions, cheese, and tomato sauce) and a Salade Niçoise with a bottle of Carte Noir Rosé. From the restaurant one gazes out across the lush plantings to the beach and then across the Bay to Anguilla. Except for the expanded lunch offerings including pizzas and a few more salads, the menu is similar to Cottage. We didn't test the kitchen much with our lunch, but it was perfectly good and the service fine. They are running this under the auspices of the Meridien, so the exchange rate wasn't quite as good, so our 53€ bill became $66, ie a 20% uplift, still less than

Monday evening was a quite pleasant dinner at Hot Tomatoes (www.HotTomatoesSXM.com) in Simpson Bay. A large, airy space on the lagoon with a beautiful wood fired pizza oven. However, for the first time in many visits I did not have my usual pizza. We started with six escargot sautéed in tequila and finished with a Jamaican jerk garlic butter, their Caribbean version of snails in garlic butter. Our dinners were the Cuban grouper filet poached in a light cream and black bean sauce and the mahi-mahi grilled and served with a coconut curry sauce. Both were fresh and tasty with creamy mashed potatoes and a spicy carrot and onion side dish. The fish was fresh and the sauces were quite good and distinct. A bottle of Mondavi's Merlot was not the obvious choice, but it was quite nice with the strong flavors of the sauces and side dishes. The bill, with the 15% service charge, was still under $100.
Tuesday night was the first of Harmony Nights in Grand Case. They will be blocking off the street from Nettuno to Rainbow and lining it with musicians, drummers, dancers, and street vendors. We sat on the porch at L'Auberge Gourmande (www.GrandCase.com/aubergegourmand) and saw it all. There are lots of photos on the www.GrandCase.com site. the view is better from the restaurants on the land side as they face the street where the action is. The restaurants on the water side all face the water, with the exception of Pressoir, which is outside the pedestrian zone.
We started with the smoked salmon (12€) and a half bottle of Sancerre (18€). The combination was perfect. Our dinners were the beef filet with a morel mushroom sauce and a bouquet of asparagus (30€) and the roasted rack of lamb rubbed in a garlic herb paste, served with shallot sauce with roasted garlic confit and olive mashed potatoes (26€). The meals were not only beautiful presentations, but very good. We really splurged on the red wine and had the Corton-Perrières Grand Cru 1999 Maurice Chapuis (64€). Someday this will be a great wine, but we were drinking it too young. It was good, but the flavors were closed-in and tight. neither the nose or taste were as big and long-lasting as it will be someday. That is a real problem on the island (or any island down here). Wine cellars are very difficult, so the long storage needed to allow fabulous wines to develop, just does not happen. If we had chosen a lesser wine (Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru 1999 Maurice Chapuis, for instance) with the same bottle age, it would have been more better (and a bit cheaper) at this time. Service by Christophe and Florence was superb even though the dining room was packed and the street was full of activity.
While we were dining and taking pictures of the plates, Michael (of Michael's Cafe) and Marilyn, his wife, walked by and offered to take our picture. I explained that we did websites, so this was not the typical tourist photo shoot and he explained who he was. We asked about the place as we hadn't seen it open on numerous visits to Grand Case. He explained that they had been in negotiations to sell the business for about six months, but they had fallen through so he would be reopening it with a light dinner menu, claiming that his days of standing at the stove from morning 'till night are behind him. He, as his sign states, is from Boston, MA, as is Marilyn, so we had a great time discussing Boston. We wished them luck in their new venture and will let you know when it reopens. Anybody who strolls the street and offers to aid tourists can't be a bad restaurateur.
As usual, we were invited to have a complimentary digestif at the end of our meal, but we decided to walk down the street to see the full effect of the Harmony Night extravaganza.We walked down past  Le Maëva (www.GrandCase.com/maeva) who was having a great night with a large menu of specials featuring their plateau of seafood, to Le Mambo (www.GrandCase.com/mambo) next to Alex Photo where the Gunslingers steel pan band was playing. Maryline at Mambo said she was having a great night as she poured a passion fruit digestif. She added that Eric (husband and chef) would be doing special dinners on Saturdays during the high season. The first one would be a Créole buffet this weekend. We crossed the street to La California (www.California-Restaurant.com) where Zuzu said she had also had a good evening. Finally, we dropped in on Rainbow (www.Rainbow-Cafe.com) to check on our reservations  for 15 January and found Spartaco of www.SpartacoRestaurant.com discussing a menu plan for a large party with Nouri, maitre d' at Rainbow. It is unclear that our impromptu Cognac tasting added anything to the discussion, but we all enjoyed it. The overall mood on the street and in the restaurants seemed quite positive. I can only add what a delight it was to walk down the street without all the cars.
On Wednesday we went with Betty Vaughan and two of her guests at the Horny Toad Guesthouse to La Gondola (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/lowlands/gondola). David Foini has moved La Gondola from Sandy Ground to the Atlantis Casino, taking over the space formerly occupied by Ferrari, the restaurant, not the car. The exterior looks quite nice and at night, the neon signs are striking. Parking is considerably easier as the casino has ample parking with strolling security. The food is the same. This is not surprising as The Raviolina, his David's pasta making operation has remained in Sandy Ground and still makes pasta fresh daily and his chef, Marco, came over to run kitchen. As before, Marco crafts fine Italian cuisine at good prices, although the prices have gone up a bit to cover the higher rent. A tasty bruschetta was presented as we ordered a couple bottles of water and a pinot grigio. I started with a lobster in puff pastry and one of our guests had melon with proscuitto. The puff pastry was light as a feather and loaded with lobster in a creamy sauce. The melon with proscuitto looked beautiful and tasted as good. Our dinners ranged from a second ap of eggplant parmesan, to a plate of gnocchi, a special of mussels in a red sauce on linguini, and two veal scaloppini with a gorgonzola sauce. Tastes were passed around and no complaints were heard. The gnocchi were light as could be in a delicate sauce, the mussels were fresh on al dente linguini, and tender veal was perfect with a rich flavorful sauce. A bottle of Valpolicella was appreciated. The total bill with 15% added was about $180. That's not bad for five people having fine meals in a lovely dining room.
Thursday was the sixth anniversary of our marriage here on St Maarten. You can get married here quite easily and there are a few people who can help you out with the paperwork (it has to be in Dutch!) and everything else (www.SXM-Info.com/SXM-weddings). we chose Rainbow (www.Rainbow-Cafe.com) for our celebration although we started with a bottle of Champagne at sunset in the hot tub on our balcony. After Luis, David and Fleur rebuilt Rainbow with a lower level of deuces along the waterfront. They are a mere six feet below the main dining room, but seem to be a world apart. Michel, our waiter, said the Pommard was not as good as in the past and that the Mercurey that they were receiving now was a premier cru and better. That is pretty good service, before we even received anything! We started with an ap off the special menu won tons filled with duck in a soy-based broth. Rainbow has been famous for their duck and oriental additions to their plates. This dish had both and justified the acclaim they have received. Our dinners were the freshest tuna and grouper available. The grouper came on a bed of veg (broccoli, red pepper, and asparagus) with leek and caviar buerre-blanc with a roasted tomato on the side. The tuna was sesame-crusted, very rare (by request), on a bed of veg with a shrimp cracker backdrop. It was an evening of interesting, well-prepared food in an idyllic setting with superb service. They are offering 1 to 1 for the exchange, but may have to change that as the euro relentlessly climbs against the dollar. They at least will have to reprice their French wines. Luckily for us, they have one of the best selections of American wines on the island. After dinner drinks can (and should) be taken on the upstairs deck. In fact, it is a good idea to arrive early for sunset and aperitifs on the upstairs deck.
On Saturday we went for a lunch at Layla's on the beach at Nettle Bay. (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/sandyground/laylas). Another season without a hurricane leads to an even more lush place on the beach. I like several of the finer restaurants on the beach at Orient and even the grills have their place, but I think this is the best experience you can have with your feet in the sand. The plantings are spectacular, the food rivals the best restaurants in freshness and inventiveness, the service has always been good, and the views are straight out of travel mags. Unfortunately, the major change this season is that Pierre and Layla have divorced. They will be operating the restaurant in three-month shifts. The good news is that they have expanded the hours of operation to include evening meals on Thursday until Sunday, offering valet parking and in their secure parking lot. They also have opened a mini-spa offering massages and nail care. Gilda, our waitress (who also painted the several watercolors that now grace the front of the menus) started us off with a chilled bottle of the Ch Beylesses rosé. We had the salade Perigordine (duck liver and gizzard confit with sautéed potatoes on a bed of fresh greens garnished with tomatoes with a vinaigrette dressing) and a Cajun-spiced calamari steak with rice and a salad. The total bill was $70.