St Maarten/St Martin
7 February 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: Super Sunday was a lovely day, but don't ask about the sunset, as we were out watching the pregame. Monday was also pleasant with some nice beach at the little cove on Cupecoy and a green flash from the cliffs. (See the photos) Tuesday rained in the morning but otherwise was lovely. We went to Pburg and I strolled the new boardwalk as Martha shopped. The beach is fantastic and many new businesses have sprung up to rent chairs and umbrellas, not to mention all the beach bars. It's not my favorite beach, but if you like action, they have it. Wednesday and Thursday were also great, but the wind shifted and Friday dawned cloudy and blustery with frequent squalls, some quite heavy. By Friday evening it had calmed down a bit and, at times, the full moon was visible. Saturday morning's whitecaps on the lagoon indicate at least a 12 to 13 knot breeze coming in from the NE, but the number of whitecaps suggests even higher wind velocities.
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 sunset from the cliffs of Cupecoy is there. We took the shortcut over the mountain from Pburg (near Cakehouse) to Cole Bay, avoiding a lot of traffic, but enduring a great number of potholes. there is a photo from the top of the hill, looking through the cacti to Simpson Bay.
Restaurant and Pburg news: Last week, we said Wajang Doll in Pburg is closing the restaurant on Front Street and moving to Simpson Bay. It turns out that there are plans to redevelop that location, although the architect said that the restaurant was not terribly sad to be moving into the Royal Village complex across from Paradise Plaza Casino. The paper announced that the next section of the boardwalk, from the Captain Hodge Pier to Sea Palace, will commence construction in April and be finished in about three months. That will tie the head of town to most of the rest of Front Street. There are plans to connect all the way to the Great Bay Hotel at the foot of town. Add in a nice walkway from the cruise ships and some form of transportation, as it is about a three mile walk from the cruiseship terminal to the foot of town, and they will have a world class tourist facility in Pburg.
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. We've got about 40 entries, so your chances are good, although they won't improve by entering the same email address several times.
On 31 Jan the euro was down to 1.24 and today it's at 1.27. 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, Enoch's Place, and Rainbow, we can now add Au Beaujolais in Marigot. I just saw the ad, but have never been there.  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.
On Monday night we went to Thai Garden (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/sandyground/thaigarden). We both had xui mai, steamed dumplings with shrimp and pork. They come with three sauces and as we use the soy-based sauce enhanced with the hot sauce, we ordered a pair of Stella Artois beers. Martha had a tasty, slightly spicy, but mostly coconut milk flavored shrimp and mushroom soup, tom yam koung. Vincent, the owner, says that this is his favorite soup, so much so that he even new the name in Thai. I had a nua pad pig, which is a beef and pepper dish with a major bowl of rice. The bill was 48 euros = $60, so there's no bargain on the conversion, but the food is inexpensive and I prefer beer with Thai food, so I save a bundle!
We trekked over the hill on Tuesday to take care of special shopping at the Grand Marché. they have some things we can't get elsewhere (special cat food, in this case). We also needed a notary. There are two at the head of town, one above the Diamond Casino. We stopped for lunch at L'Escargot (www.LescargotRestaurant.com) on Front Street. Joel and Sonya serve serve authentic French cuisine, featuring snails, but having almost everything. We had a shrimp salad and the swordfish with a spicy sauce. A half bottle of chardonnay with a tip brought the bil up to $60.
That evening we went to Les Dunes (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/marigot/dunes) on the Marigot Marina. Georges of Belle Epoque has taken over the old Rendezvous des Artistes spot, added a lush tent, many wall hangings, fantastic furniture, and lovely decoration to make something out of 1001 Nights. The food includes Moroccan appetizer, cous-cous, and tajines, but also features cuisine from the south of France. We tried a bit of both. Martha had a quail (fully deboned) in a pastry pouch with veg and mushrooms. I had the lamb tajine: a lamb shank long-cooked with prunes, raisons, carrots, a hint of cinnamon, and more. A very nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone accompanied everything well. It's priced a bit above the bistros/brasseries surrounding the marina but strives to be a bit more refined cuisine (not to mention the interior decoration bill), equalling Tropicana, approaching Chanteclair. The desserts appeared to be over the top and two women stopped in especially for dessert. We only took pictures for the website, but were assured that everything tasted as good as it looked.
Wednesday night we went out on the Celine Lagoon Pub Crawl  (www.SXM-Activites.com/lagoonpubcrawl). It leaves from Turtle Pier across from the airport runway at 6:30 and sails to Lal's Indian Cuisine directly across from the airport terminal (It's so convenient, we've been known to use it as a departure lounge, although Cafe Juliana upstairs in the airport is several levels above the average airport restaurant.) On board drinks are free and everybody gets a free beer, wine, etc, at each restaurant plus a sampling of the food. At Lal's we got a slightly spicy somosa with a couple sauces to enhance it, if you dared, and some deep-fried veg. After about 45 minutes we went out onto the moonlit sea and headed for Peg Leg Pub. Another beer and some of the tastiest steak samples on the island. They also were passing out mahi-mahi chunks. Forty-five minutes later we were heading back to Turtle Pier. As it is Wednesday Lobster Night at the Pier, there was a steel band playing. We got another drink and Al served ribs and conch fritters. The cost is $55 per person which seems pretty good for more than you should drink or eat plus a ride around the lagoon. Once a month, Captain Neil throws in a full moon at no extra charge.
On Thursday we went next door to Montmartre (www.SXM-Restaurants.com/lowlands/montmartre) at Atlantis Casino. We are starting to treat this place as our dining room. We started with a goat cheese salad, mixed greens with bacon, topped with a bit of goat cheese and Roquefort in phyllo dough. We added a light Burgundy and were off to a good start. I tried the roasted duck breast deglazed with honey and raspberry vinaigrette. I'm not a big fan of fruit or sweets with meat, but I'm starting to appreciate the combination with venison from our farm and the earlier dinner at Les Dunes combining lamb with prunes emboldened me this evening. Farm-raised duck isn't exactly wild venison, but it is a bit gamier than the average boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breast, so the fruit and honey combo with the duck was quite good. Martha had the pork loin stuffed with green sage, rolled in a potato crust with a medlay of veg. Both were quite nice with the Burgundy.
On Friday we had a light lunch at Greenhouse (www.TheGreenhouseRestaurant.com) in Pburg. The Greenhouse is more known for its dancing and drinking, but is upgrading its food. On Fridays they have fresh Saba lobster at $15.95 per pound, one of the best prices on the island. ?t lunchtime they get plenty of cruiseship passangers, especially on bad weather days, as the tourists stay off the beaches. We were happy to get a seat in the interior on such a blustery day. The menu is exceedingly long (says the man who has to post it on the internet), so you should be able to find something you like. Martha had a very tasty Jamaican jerk chicken salad and I indulged in a Greenhouse burger (cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled onion, lettuce, and tomato) with fries. No, you probably won't find either recipe in Gourmet magazine anytime soon, but it was still a pretty good lunch.
On Friday night we went to Le Cottage (www.restaurantlecottage.com) in Grand Case with another couple (John and Nancy). Our friends split a foie gras plate that features a slice of fresh foie gras and two slices of foie gras pâté with toast points. Martha and I split the frog legs which arrived in a green parsley sauce with a dollop of long-cooked garlic purée in the center. Amusing to look at and quite tasty. As usual we turned Stephane loose on the wine front. we had started with champagne at our friends house, so we went rignt to a 97 Ch La Garde from Pessac-Leognan, not the most famous of Bordeaux regions, but a very nice wine, smoothed out by seven years of mellowing in cask or bottle. As usual a red wine and cinnamon granité cleansed the palate between courses. Our dinners featured two orders of the special langoustine imported direct from Brittany and done in three different ways by Chef Christophe: broiled, a tartare, and a ravioli with a creamy vegetable and seafood risotto on the side. I had a cassoulet of seafood, grouper, lobster, shrimp, and scallops on a bed of white beans and John had the rack of lamb with artichokes in a light, tart sauce. Stephane poured glasses of a 99 Bordeaux for the main course. We finished with a praline soufflée with an apricot granité. As soon as it was ready, Bruno rushed it to the table where coffees and armagnacs were waiting. It was a wonderful end to the evening, although converting the 223 euros to $240 (about 1.1 to 1) was a nice touch also.
Parking in Grand Case is up to 4 euros or $4 (another 1 to 1 exchange) but many restaurants, including Cottage will reimburse you for that cost. Note also that California and Chez Martine have their own free parking lot.
After dinner we trekked into Friar's Bay for the monthly full moon party. The drive is horrendous, the parking is a scene from Hieronymous Bosch, a Carib was $3, the music was rap, not reggae, but the bonfire was nice. Photos on the site.
Lately Martha and I have been discussing what makes a restaurant good, and moreover what makes it profitable. We've both been in this business. She was a chef and eventually worked as a consultant, designing menus and getting restaurants started. We've come to believe that having hands-on management by the owner is one key. I just scanned the list above and thought back to last week's dinner at Mario's Bistro and every restaurant (save one) had an owner on-premises while we were dining (including the three stops on the pub crawl). The only exception was Les Dunes. Georges owns both Les Dunes and Belle Epoque, about 100 feet apart on the Marigot Marina. Even though they are that close, his wife is frequently at Les Dunes and he took one of his best waiters from Belle Epoque and moved him to Les Dunes. We also think that getting good staff and keeping them is critical. Pascal and Karen own L'Auberge Gourmande, Sunset Café, and Montmartre. Karen is always at Montmartre and has Olivier, one of the best waiters on the island. Actually, he was there before Karen and Pascal took over Montmartre. Pascal divides his time between Sunset and L'Auberge in Grand Case and one of the reasons that he can do this is Christophe at L'Auberge, another candidate for best waiter on the island. Bruno is always at Le Cottage and has had Stephane and another Olivier (maybe it's the name) for as long as we can remember. The third requirement (possibly the first) is a chef with imagination and a management that allows him to use it. We are immediately turned off when we ask about specials and are told that everything is special. Generally, it means that nothing is special; it's the same thing that the chef has been preparing on auto-pilot since the menu was laminated (always a bad sign) in the previous mellenium. Specials allow a chef to experiment with his style, eventually adding the most successful dishes to next year's menu. They also make our dining experience interesting enough that we can return several times in a season and do it year after year.