St Maarten/St Martin
31 January 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: Sunday 25 Jan started out spectacular but things got progressively worse. The wind was howling out of the east driving sand (and people) off Orient Beach into the little cove at Cupecoy making it very crowded. This wind brought rain clouds and on Monday there were sprinkles at Cupecoy just before sunset. We went home and watched a spectacular sunset from our balcony as the sun provided dramatic backlight for the offending rainclouds. By the next day, the rain was more steady but cleared out by sunset, no fun for beachgoers, but the sunset sail was quite nice. Wednesday started muggy and cloudy but turned beautiful and by Thursday we awoke to a cloudless sky with views off the balcony to Nevis. The little cove at Cupecoy was filling with sand and the winds at Orient had died down, so we had plenty of space. Both evenings featured "green flashes" as the sun sank into the Caribbean. Friday was almost as nice, but the wind shifted and big rollers started coming into Cupecoy. Nonetheless, sunset on Saturday featured yet another green flash.
The green flash is a tiny dot of green light that appears just as the sun is setting into the water. Obviously, this requires that the waterline at the point where the sun goes down be free of clouds and that the atmosphere be free of haze. I have never taken a picture of of one, not for lack of trying, but it is a dot of light on the horizon that is only there for a couple seconds. I have never seen a photo of one either. This causes many people to theorize that a green flash is in some way related to the fact that Heineken bottles are green. Assertions are made and aspersions are cast concerning the quantity of Heineken that must be consumed before the flash appears, presumably next to a pink elephant. The true cause is related to a prism and Roy G. Biv, the mnemonic discoverer of the theory of light diffraction in a prism. Basically, visible light contains Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, from the longest wavelenth to the shortest. Long wavelenth light bends more in a prism. Sunsets are red because the atmosphere is bendng the rays, producing a greater width of red rays. The last thing you will see as the sun sets, is the last bit of the shorter rays. My guess is that there isn't enough blue, indigo, and violet to register on the retina and we are left with a green flash.
Photo feature: 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. The spectacular sunset from our balcony on 26 Jan is there. There is also a rare sunrise photo. Nothing else, it's been a busy week.
Restaurant and grocery news: Wajang Doll in Pburg is closing the restaurant on Front Street and moving to Simpson Bay. We stopped in at the new Lido in Maho Plaza, under La Terrasse, the new timeshare complex. The former manager of the Cole Bay Food Center appears to be managing this place and doing a pretty good job. The vegetables looked great, the prices seemed good, and the store is considerably larger than anything on this side of the two bridges. There was a large section of wine, cheese, and meat plus plenty of snack stuff. They also had some gourmet items at very good prices, walnut oil, etc. No truffle oil, but the Grand Marché in Pburg had some considerably cheaper than Hediard in Marigot. It looks as if the Hediard at the marina has closed and the one in the West Indies Mall is their only outpost. 
Scavenger's Beach Bar is sponsoring the current contest. Just go to their website (www.SXM-restaurants.com/orient/scavengers), 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. This contest is a bit different, as Scavenger's is offering a day at the beach for four people. You get four chairs, two umbrellas, four lunches and four drinks. It's still worth about $100 and it could be yours. In September of 1995 Hurricane Luis came in from the east and destroyed the Dawn Beach Hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels on the island. Scavenger's is located in one of the units and the bar and tables were scavenged from the wreckage. It's still a lovely spot, partially because 900 tons of wreckage were carted away, but also because of the superb beach and great views to St Barts.
The winner of the previous contest, sponsored by The Inn at Cupecoy was George Taylor. They will be enjoying a great meal at Citrus Restaurant and getting $100 off their bill.
At the New Year, the Euro hit a new high against the dollar, almost a  30% premium and on 31 Jan it was down to 1.24, dropping a couple cents over the last week. 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, Balaou, Santal, and Rainbow, we can now add Enoch's Place. For those of you who don't know it, it is a not much more than a lolo on the Marigot Waterfront, perfectly good food at good prices, even better now that they are doing them in dollars.  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. As always, know what the euro is worth, what the restaurateur is offering for an exchange, and what the costs are on the menu. Finally, you are here to have fun and fine food, not complex financial calculations, so don't worry about it too much.
We went to Wellbeing, now called Charme Restaurant on Monday (26 Jan). They finally decided to change the name as most Americans thought it was health food and I have to believe that few people come to the premier dining spot in the Caribbean for health food. We had had quite a snack and gab fest at a house on the lagoon before dinner so we just had two dinners off the special menu: sea scallops in a light curry sauce with vegetables ($23) and mushroom flan and a braised veal in spring vegetables, essentially a veal stew ($26). Sounds like cold weather food, and it was fairly cool after the rain. We didn't have a wine list when we ordered so I told Sophie that we wanted a light Burgundy. She replied 98 Givry Premier Cru ($39). She used to work with Stephane at Le Cottage and I can think of no better place to learn about wines. Stephane is from Burgundy. Sophie is from Nantes in the Loire Valley and her grandfather owns vineyards, so possibly she didn't learn everything at Le Cottage. Wherever, she found us a very nice accompaniment to the dinners that we enjoyed immensely. Le Charme's presentations are a third of its charm, the food is another third, the room accounts for a further third, and Muriel, Sophie, and the other waitresses make up a final third. If my math is off, blame it on the Givry. The scallops were tender and lightly seared, swimming in a sea of slightly spicy curry sauce with a myriad of vegetables. The center of the very strangely shaped plate (see the website) had a mound of an intensely flavored mushroom duxelle. I actually had to take very small bites of this as the morel flavor was overpowering. Martha commented that her veal stew tasted like the one that she makes. I tasted it and she was correct. It was as good as hers. You should know that Martha was a chef de cuisine at one of the finest restaurants in the Saratoga Springs area and this is one of our favorite dishes. A little coffee and armagnac ended a lovely evening.
On Tuesday night we went to Mario's Bistro in Sandy Ground. I have owned the URL for two years while Martyne tried to convince her hubby, Mario, and partner Didier, to have a website. It appears that nagging works. They now say she can have a site, but they don't want to work on it. No problem, but it will be a week or two before it is in operation. Mario is one of the finest chefs on the island and when the other two co-owners are in the dining room, service tends to be good also. The only problem is that everybody knows this and reservations are hard to get. We stopped in on Saturday night and told Mario we wanted to come to dinner the following week. We got a 9PM reservation on Tuesday, the moral being that flexibility helps, as does dining late. We arrived on time said a few hellos, had a glass of wine at the bar, and carried most of it to our waterfront table. The dining room was still full, but most of these groups left by 9:30 leaving us to a peaceful evening on the canal, another advantage to dining late. We ordered a 98 Pommard from Joseph Drouhin (63€). I got "the look" from Martha when I ordered it, but a much nicer look after she tasted it. Drouhin makes wonderful wines and a Pommard is a good starting point for a great wine. When it is aged a bit over five years, it will be big, smooth, and long lasting with a hint of fruit left. We started with a napoleon of smoked salmon (13€). The strong flavors of the smoked salmon with a horseradish cream sauce and cherry tomatoes with balsamic accents more than stood up to the red wine. Mario also slipped in layers of deep-fried bric (bric is a bit thicker than phyllo dough, definitely not puffy, but crisp, more like a taco), thin-sliced carrots, and cukes to add some interesting texture to the interesting flavors. For dinners we had two more fish offerings, both specials, swordfish on garlic mashed potatoes with a cherry tomato chutney (25€) and a tuna with a bleu cheese topping on a bed of gnocchi so light that the tuna had to be tethered to the plate with fried parsley (24€). The swordfish had a fried parsley topping also and curry accents in the tomato chutney and balsamic dribbles on the plate. The gnocchi was in a light, tangy tomato sauce and the entire plate had a surround of buerre blanc. Again, the rich flavors on the plate had no problem with the red wine, even though the dishes were fish-based. We finished with some very good decaf espresso and a balloon of Fontpinot XO Cognac. Leaving out the Pommard, our bill was 100€, so if a lesser wine were substituted, it would be possible to enjoy this fine food on the water for less than $150. 
On Wednesday we went to Montmartre at Atlantis Casino. The well-lit parking lot has security guards on patrol. The room is opulent and the waiters are in turn-of-the-century black and white waiter attire and the food matches. It's not cutting edge cuisine, but old favorites with many tableside preparations. We started with a Salade Landaise, a salad from the area in France where ducks and geese are raised. It started with nice greens in a walnut oil dressing with smoked duck breast, duck gizzard confit, and crispy croutons on top. Alongside was a slice of melt-in-your-mouth foie gras paté. Given the over the top ingredients, it tasted as wonderful as the presentation. For the main course we had a rib of beef. Afterwards, we wondered if Americans would think this was spareribs when it is essentially what we call Chateaubriand, named after the 19th century French statesmen. I did say it was not cutting edge, but it was interesting to watch Olivier use the cutting edge of his carving knife as he deftly sliced up the large, rare rib and placed the slices on our plates. The plates had been brought from the kitchen with artichoke, roasted tomato, a bit of scalloped potatoes, braised endive, and more along with three sauces. There was barely room on the plate for all the beef. It was a very tasty bit of grilled beef with interesting sauces and tasty accompaniments. Our 97 Beaune Premier cru was no match for the previous night's Pommard, but was about half the price and a very good wine with our flavorful dinners. We actually had about half the beef set aside for lunch the next day, and broke with tradition by ordering a dessert. The pastry chef, who came from the Connaught Hotel's two Michelin rosette restaurant in London, had made a mint and chocolate number that rivaled the most outrageous of Dali's canvases. You really have to go to the website to see it. Despite an almost full house for most of the evening, the wait staff was up to the task. It was a very enjoyable evening.
On Thursday we went for the wine tasting at Vinissimo and had a great Chablis from Billaud-Simon. I've been complaining about Chablis for a while but this one finally has the sharp flinty taste that has been missing and it only costs about $15 per bottle. After the wine tasting,  we had a casual dinner at Sugar Cane Cafe at Atlantis Casino. Everyone needs a break once in a while. We just had a buffalo chicken wrap and a Cajun cheeseburger with a few Stella Artois from the tap, a fabulous beer from Belgium. Spicy chicken and a spicy cheeseburger with a few cold beers to wash it down as we looked out over the golf course or watched the wide screen TV. This is going to be a jumping joint on Super Sunday.
Lunch on Friday was the special at the new Hanabi) in the Maho Complex. We noticed the sign here earlier and Joe Kim has just opened in his new location this week. The lunch special is a tasty Japanese salad with soy-based dressing and a bento box full of California rolls, sashimi, sushi, and very tasty teriyaki chicken. It was only $15 and we found it more than enough for lunch. The dinner menu turns this into a five course meal by adding soup and dessert and expanding the size of the other items ($35). One could certainly add any one of several wines on the wine list and walk out quite satisfied for less than $100 per couple. 
Early on Friday we went to the Flamingo Resort's Palapa Beach bar to join Michael and Erica listen to the steel pan band. This band and/or others will be playing at Sugar Cane Café in the future. We took some photos for the Sugar Cane site, had a few brews, and headed to Saint Germain. Patrick Le Black is another island character and has trained his staff in his image. The tagline for the restaurant is "a little piece of Paris in Saint Martin" and it is a Paris Bistro that they are imitating: good food, good prices, fast service in a lively atmosphere, but you are welcome to linger as long as you want. We started with fried calamari. They came on a bed of lettuce with a tartare sauce. I prefer a bit of spice, no problem, a bottle of Tabasco was readily available. Martha had a salad featuring goat cheese wrapped in a bric and deep-fried. the cheese became a creamy, tasty filling inside a satisfying crunch. I had a rognon (kidneys) special in morel sauce. The rognons were not trimmed with the care that my personal chef lavishes upon me, but were quite tasty and even though I doubt the morels were harvested off the beach this morning, they made a very nice sauce. In 25 years of mushroom hunting on our farm, Martha has only found morels two or three times, so fresh morels are hard to find. Reconstituted dried morels are almost as good, especially in a sauce. The plate also included a potato gratin, carrots and onions with curry flavors, broccoli, and more. The plate contained an amazing amount of flavors for a mere $15. We had a bottle of Bouchard's Vignée non-vintage Burgundy for $25 and added water  and coffees to bring the bill up to $71. That was a 15% uplift on the euro, or about 10% better than the bank rate. Don't confuse it with fine food in a stuffy atmosphere, and once you meet Patrick, that's unlikely to happen, but it's certainly good food at a good price.
On Saturday we headed for Auberge Gourmande. Saturday is changeover day in the timeshare hotels, so Saturday evenings in restaurants are not the overcrowded mess that exists in the US. In fact, it's a rather slow night. That's perfect for sitting on the porch at L'Auberge and having some sea scallops in soy and sesame oil and a bottle of crisp Quincy from the Loire. We continued with the white wine and ordered the two lightest fishes on the menu: French sea bass grilled whole with fennel on a bed of vegetables with herb oil and whole grilled sole in almond butter "meunier" served with scalloped potatoes and roasted vegetables. Coffees and complimentary cognac closed out a wonderful evening on the street in Grand Case.
Why are curries called Columbos?: This week's etymology lesson notes that the Dutch and most other colonial powers had outposts in both the East and West Indies. In fact, they were both called the Indies because originally the explorers thought they were two ends of the same place. It was a it of a problem (or a major scam job) to find North and South America in between. It didn't matter much as they called everyone in both places Indians. Back to the topic: curries came from the country of India, ie the Asian sub-continent. Just off the coast is Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, capital Columbo. The curries from Columbo were brought to the islands on the sailing ships and became known by the name of their origin. The book from which 2001: A Space Odyssey was made was written by Arthur C. Clark, a Brit, now a resident of Columbo. The dinner of THAI ISLAND COCONUT RED CURRY CHICKEN BREAST (tender strips of chicken breast sautéed with red and green peppers and finished with a coconut red curry sauce) from Hot Tomatoes goes to Fred Stanton.