St Maarten/St Martin
21 February 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: Sunday was pretty cloudy with a bit of rain now and then. Monday morning had a cloudburst, but switched to clouds and blue sky. The little cove at Cupecoy was lovely in the afternoon, but no green flash. By Tuesday things had cleared out even more and we caught a green flash off the balcony. Wednesday had haze on the horizon and a few clouds but was a beautiful day. We were at Grand Case Beach Club for lunch, and just as it was earlier in the year, there is beach on the right (west) side of the point, but essentially none on the other side. Pburg's beach is beautiful, in a crowded, happening style and Simpson Bay is looking great in a laid-back, empty style. Early on Friday the air and sea became quite still. It was fairly cloudy and there was rain on the horizon that cleared the air allowing us to see all the way to Nevis from the balcony. Unfortunately, the wind shifted, small swells became larger and when we came home from dinner we could hear the surf pounding Cupecoy Beach from six stories up. A quick walk in the morning showed that all beaches from Ocean Club to the north were gone.
We use Skyglobe to tell us what is happening in the night sky. Down in SXM, where you can see so much more sky, because of the lack of tall buildings and absence of light pollution, it's interesting to know what is up there. It also gives you the time for sunset and the phase of the moon and moonrise time. It starts with the date and time on your computer, but you can move the date to your time on the island and change the location to SXM (18.05 North 63.10 East) to find out what things will be like when you visit. Obviously, you can use it at home also. You can download the Skyglobe program free. It was shareware for a mere $5 that is now available for nothing because the company is out of business.

Restaurant news: Next Saturday is Le Mambo's seventh anniversary. Chef Eric is putting out a 30€ Créole buffet that includes a planter's punch.

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. There is a Guadeloupe melon, currently in season. We've picked them up at Food Fair, Ram's, Grand Marché, and US Import/Export. If you don't know where these stores are, we put a map on the grocery page. Add some proscuitto, Serrano, or Bayonne ham or on the Dutch side, rauwe ham, for a taste treat. Squeeze on a bit of lime and add a glass of rosé from Vinissimo (Cotes de Provence from Brégançon).

Wines: Friday afternoon, being cloudy, was spent on the balcony talking with our guests and the couple who had rented unit 254 next door. The talking required considerable lubrication, including all my Chablis from Vinissimo. On our way to dinner we stopped to get some more and even though the standard wine tasting is on Thursday, we found Sylvain's counter littered with wine glasses at about 6:40. Even though closing time is at 7PM, Sylvain opened the white wine from Brégançon (Cotes de Provence). Before we could get down to the business of buying Chablis, three Americans from Ohio who had rented a villa in the French lowlands came in and declared that they were in heaven. They also sampled the Brégançon, and purchased about four cases of very good wines and packed them in styrofoam shippers for the journey back to the US. If you have room in your weight allowance, the duty is only 10% and given the savings available, it makes sense to ship it.
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 80 entries, so your chances are good, although they won't improve by entering the same email address several times.
Look for future gift certificates from:
Thai Garden - 25 Feb to 20 March
Unity Car Rental - 21 March to 20 April
Temptation Restaurant - 21 April to 31 May
L'Auberge Gourmande - 1 June to 31 July
Sunset Café - 1 August to 31 September
Montmartre Restaurant - 1 October to 31 November
On 14 Feb the euro was at 1.28 and today it's at 1.266, although it hit an alltime high during the week. French side restaurants with many costs in dollars and many American (or Canadian) clients have been offering more favorable exchange rates. Some restaurants offer a 1 to 1 exchange. These include California, Escapade, Balaou, Santal, Enoch's Place, Au Beaujolais, and Rainbow.  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 Tuesday night we experienced Harmony Night in Grand Case from Le Cottage. Originally, we had reservations for the front porch, but when we returned early from the beach to get ready to pick up guests at the airport, an email from them said they were still in Charlotte. US Air 877 arrived about four hours late, so we cancelled the reservations, knowing that somebody would be thrilled to have a four top on the street. Our guests eventually arrived in good shape and said they were game for dropping off the luggage and driving to Grand Case. About 40 minutes later we were in the Grand Case Airport parking lot waiting for the jitney bus to take us to the pedestrian zone. We walked past a band at the lolos and down past some rather full restaurants. We stopped at Cottage and asked Bruno if we could have a table for four. After much consultation of the reservations and reconnoitering of the dining room he said five minutes. We went back to the street and enjoyed some music coming from a band near Maëva and as some people cleared out of Cottage, a table appeared. Stephane poured Skalli's Chardonnay "Futs de Chenes". I wouldn't have guessed that it was a French chardonnay, until Stephane mentioned the name. The difference is the "Futs de Chenes" or oak barrels. The wine was as heavily oaked as anything from California. We took two orders of a special mushroom stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce that Stephane accompanied with a light Bordeaux. Our dinners were the whole foie gras roasted with white beans flavored with cocoa beans and aromatic vinegar. It is served for two people because it is a whole foie gras and more than enough. It was luscious and the dish is a well conceived blending of flavors and textures: smooth, buttery foie gras on a bed of beans with a bit of crunch to them suffused with a reduction sauce and a hint of cacao. The ladies had the cote de veau, essentially prime rib on the bone, but from veal. When it arrived on the plate, the ribs were separated, so each plate had essentially two veal chops swimming in a sea of oyster mushrooms and a reduction sauce. There were several mushroom caps stuffed with a mushroom duxelle scattered about. It was my kind of meal and I was most grateful that Martha shared. Stephane brought out a larger Bordeaux for the more flavorful main courses. We skipped coffees and dessert, so Olivier brought over the bottle of vanilla rum and before we knew what happened, it was 11:30. Luckily, the car knows the way home.
On Wednesday we went to Sunset Café for a lunch on the beach. They had a special of moules frites, the national dish of Belgium, land of my ancestors. Steve Wright, manager of Grand Case Beach Club, said that these were the best mussels on the island, even better than those at St Severin, the place where the locals go for seafood. I will not get caught up in this debate, but my mussels in a creamy white wine sauce with parsley and onions were great. Crispy French fries aren't so bad either. The ladies had healthy seafood salads. The warm day with a few clouds in the sky above the lovely beach seemed to call out for a rosé, actually two bottles.
That night we had appetizers at a private home on the lagoon before heading for a light dinner at  Belle Epoche on the Marigot marina. We split a beef carpaccio sliced so thin that you could see the pattern on the plate through the beef and a salade landaise for starters and then moved on to two thin crust pizzas. Two bottles of the wine of the week, a pinot noir from Henri Bourgeois, went well with everything. The bill with a bit extra tip was only $120.
Thursday was a shopping day in Pburg with a lunch at Antoine Restaurant. Trying to keep it light again, we just had two fish soups, thick dark red very flavorful soup with the usual croutons, grated gruyere cheese, and rouille (a garlicky cream sauce) and a gazpacho. I've driven the coast from Marseille in the south of France to Marbella in the south of Spain. The car used about ten gallons of gas and I went through about ten gallons of gazpacho in as many different forms, each one claiming to be authentic. I've had them more like bisque with a solitary crouton floating forlornly in the center and with enough garlic to bring tears to your eyes. I've had gazpacho so thick with diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers, you could walk across the top. If I had to choose, I like a thick tomato sauce with plenty of diced veg. This version had the thick, and tasty sauce, with plenty of veg on the side. We then split up a red snapper filet in a beurre blanc surrounded by scalloped potatoes and a salad Niçoise. We had a bottle of Sancerre and a great time for about $100 with the included 15% service charge.
After lunch I was dragged next door to see Lawrence at Mayfair Jewelers to see a rare 1.4 carat green diamond. Lawrence said it cost very little. I said I had very little in my pocket and was willing to trade. He still has the diamond. We have been taking friends there for years and have found Lawrence quite pleasant to deal with.
Thursday night we stayed home, having Argentine beef from Ram's. It was a tenderloin, presumably grass-fed rather than finished on grain and steroids, maybe more flavorful, but certainly a bit tougher. Supposedly Curaçao, the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, banned the importation of US beef. How seriously this directive was taken up here in St Maarten (a duty-free port that inspects nothing) is certainly in doubt. In any event, I have been told the ban has now been rescinded. Nonetheless, there is a new Argentine steak house on Pondfill (Los Gauchos) and even Antoine Restaurant is offering its steaks in both the US and Argentine version.
Friday night, after an impromptu wine tasting at Vinissimo, we went to Hot Tomatoes for a casual but quite tasty dinner. We split up some calamari and conch fritter appetizers, a nice start. Brad had been touting some lamb chops in a spicy sauce and the brisket is always tasty. Both came with mashed potatoes and beets? We love beets, but we're not sure about the rest of the world. We also ordered two wood fired pizzas and took half of each home for breakfast. Eric, half of the group Cold Turkey, was playing and singing in the bar. It sounded quite nice back on the terrace. All in all, a pretty nice night in St Maarten.