St Maarten/St Martin
28 February 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: On Sunday Cupecoy Beach was gone. The big rollers had taken the NW end away and were hitting the platform on the middle beach by the monolith. The little cove had wet sand from one end to the other and five to seven foot rollers running all the way across the beach. Great for body surfing. Orient Beach looks better than ever, albeit full of tourists. We had a hard time finding a spot at the SE end near the Perch on a Monday. I walked all the way to the SE end and found a lot more space near Papagayo's. Mullet is looking good, although the rollers that took away Cupecoy made swimming impossible at Mullet, they did leave the beach there. By Tuesday the sea had calmed down and the little cove at Cupecoy was a lovely spot for a day at the beach. Wednesday was rather cloudy but the rain held off all day. The evening suffered from periodic cloudbursts. On Thursday the wind shifted to the SE and two to three foot waves started to chew up the little cove at Cupecoy, but were adding sand to the NW end. Friday was a beautiful day with SE winds again, enough to fill the sea with whitecaps. There is beach below Cliffhanger, the replacement for Cliffside, at Cupecoy Beach Club at the SE end of Cupecoy Beach. Late in the day, the wind died, puffy white clouds filled the sky, and a green flash settled into the sea as the sun set. Today, Saturday, looks fine, no whitecaps, little surf.
Regatta news: The Heineken Regatta runs March 5 through 7 with multiple classes and multiple races (and multiple parties). They do a round the island race on Friday, a Simpson Bay to Marigot race on Saturday, and a Marigot to Simpson Bay race on Sunday. The link goes to the official website but I have some photos on the SXM-Activities site taken from our balcony. It's a good place to watch the action, but if you really want to see things, get on a boat and get into the thick of it. Many charter boats will take you out: Sealine is a 42 foot Sea Ray available for a small group, Celine is a sail/motor cat available for a larger group, and the larger cats that do snorkeling day sails also follow the boats.
Restaurant news:   The Brasserie de Marigot in downtown Marigot has closed, although I doubt too many Americans even know where it was. It was a throwback, featuring bistro food, off-track betting, thick cigarette smoke, etc. Times change, even in France.
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 cotton flower from a shown a few weeks ago is combined with a cotton boll and the resulting cotton. A guavaberry tree is starting to bear fruit on the path along Cupecoy Beach.

Wines:   We went to Pburg and checked out Philipsburg Liquor Store.  They have spiffed up a place in Pointe Blanche near the AC Wathey cruise ship pier. François, the legendary wine steward at Hibiscus Restaurant for many years, is in charge of wine here. The front room has some pretty good prices on spirits and the back room has some outstanding wines, including the 2001 Pommard from Le Royer-Girardin that I had liked at La Marine.
On Thursday we stopped at the Vinissimo wine tasting and sampled a rosé from Provençe (light, refreshing, just what we like with the Guadeloupe melons and proscuitto), a Puligny-Montrachet from LeFlaive, and a rare white Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The red wines were Leflaive's 99 Pommard, a red Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and a very nice, though a bit expensive at $22, Valpolicella. Sylvain had gone to La Sucriére on the Marigot waterfront for some of their excellent bread and laid out a nice platter of cheese and paté.
We actually had both Pommards at home and tasted them against one another for our Friday lunch. And the winner is, drum roll, us. They were both so wonderful that we can't decide.
On Friday our guests headed home and given the foot of snow in Charlotte, their trip was not without its adventures. We thought of them as we attended a cognac tasting in the afternoon at Vinissimo. René Luc Chabasse of Chabasse and Bowen Cognacs is on the island with his beautiful wife and daughter. Sounds a bit sexist, but it is mentioned as a prelude to the comment that Mrs Chabasse is on the cover and elsewhere in the Chabasse glossy promo and Ms Chabasse is on the cover and elsewhere in the Bowen glossy promo. The tasting started with Très Vieux Pineau des Charentes, a slightly sweet aperitif made from some of the best grapes in the Cognac region north of Bordeaux and a bit of cognac from the region to bring the mixture up to about 17% alcohol. When chilled, it makes an excellent aperitif. We then moved up the scale of cognacs from VS (2 to 3 years old), VSOP (4 to 5 years old), Napoleon (10 to 17 years old), XO (18 to 20 years old), to a Bowen extra (35 to 40 years old). They really did get fuller and mellower (as did we) as we tasted up the scale.  René's great-grandfather ran the Chabasse Cognac firm many years ago and in order to impress an Englishwoman named Elisabeth Bowen, he made a cognac especially for her.
Thai Garden is sponsoring the current contest, which will run until March 20. 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 for the newsletter. Just tell me you are already on our mailing list, and I'll leave you signed up for the newsletter and just add your name to the contest list. You could win a $100 toward a meal for two at Thai Garden.
The winner of the Scavenger's Beach Bar contest was Ann Sullivan.
This is a major revision, as many new sponsors have signed up. We urge you all to sign up. Our clients want you to see what they have to offer. Go to their websites at the appropriate time, click the link, and you could be a winner. Look for future gift certificates from:
Unity Car Rental - 21 March to 15 April
Temptation Restaurant - 16 April to 16 May
Vacation Suites - 17 May to 30 June
L'Auberge Gourmande - 1 July to 15 August
Sunset Café - 16 August to 30 September
Montmartre Restaurant - 1 October to 15 November
Sealine Charters - 16 November to 15 December
Chez Pat/Tropical Wave - 16 December to 6 January
On 21 Feb the euro was at 1.266 and today it's at 1.24. 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, Rainbow, and we just noticed Ooze Rare in Marigot. Having had lunch at Pirate on the beach in Orient, we noted that the prices are in dollars - no conversion necessary! 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 Saturday night we went to Hibiscus Restaurant in Grand Case. Thierry Delaunay is one of the finest chefs on the island, known for blending island spices into standard French dishes. He was the chef at Chez Martine before opening Hibiscus in a converted Créole house toward the eastern end of Grand Case in 1995. While his cooking may be flawless, Hurricane Luis arrived in early September and demonstrated that his timing was a bit off. Things are going a bit more smoothly as he heads into his tenth season. We had ordered the tasting menu which costs $75 per person and requires 24 hours advance notice. Having met father and son Durup at Le Cottage a few weeks earlier, we ordered a bottle of their Chablis, Ch Maligny, and settled in for a culinary experience. All meals at Hibiscus start with a tiny bowl of soup that blends some interesting flavors together. Our menu was no different, starting with a creamy, velvety soup based on breadfruit with chicken bits and a hint of heat. Our next course was sautéed foie gras, but you should look at the website. The standard toast points were transformed into platform that held up a piece shaped into a duck. The duck's wings were thin slices of parmesan cheese that swept back and enclosed a bit of foie gras in a balsamic reduction sauce. The next course consisted of grilled ouassous, river shrimp from Guadeloupe. They grow large and do not have the metallic taste of sea shrimp, making them a perfect meaty foil for grilling followed by the addition of a tasty sauce. This little treat was accompanied by a ratatouille wrapped in a slice of zucchini topped with a crispy cracker. A small bit of pike with mixed veg and a bit of orange came next. A final plate of quail stuffed with several wild mushrooms accompanied by a baby leek and crispy, fried potatoes ended the main courses. The dessert course was, in actuality, five desserts: banana nem (spring roll), custard with tropical fruits, tarte tatin, green apple sorbet, and nougat glacé with tangerine. We had the Ladoix 1er cru «La Corvée» 1997 Domaine Parent after the Chablis ran out and finished with a sweet wine for the dessert course.
On Sunday we went to Layla's for a lunch on the beach. Reservations are handy, especially if you want to arrive for a fashionably late lunch like the French. We wanted to head out to the beach, so we went at noon and it wasn't very full, but it did get crowded by the time we left at 1:30. I had a whole dorade royale (a small version of mahi-mahi), grilled with a curry sauce, salad, and a bit of rice. The other courses were the brochette of shrimp and scallops (the recipient used the words "to die for") with risotto, a seafood salad, and a magret de canard (duck breast). It's really good food in a beach bar, as good as our favorites at the northern end of Orient. They now are open nights from Thursday to Sunday and have a band on Thursday. 
Wednesday was another shopping day in Pburg with a lunch at L'Escargot Restaurant. Our guests were looking for a camera and we strolled down to DK Gems to see Deepti, better known as the Indian Princess on TTOL. She is every bit as lovely as her photo on TTOL and the shop has some beautiful pieces. We talked mostly about restaurants and she said that she liked Temptation quite a bit, going there about once a week. I told her that we had saved that for our guests' final night on the island.
Our guests had chosen L'Escargot Restaurant in order to satisfy their craving for snails - no better restaurant on the island for that. They have snails seven different ways and if you can't decide, have a sampler (or two, as we did). Split four ways, that is only three snails each, but by the time you add in the hot, crusty French bread used to soak up the garlicky butter, it's quite an appetizer. We went on to the conch soup, calamari steak in caper sauce, a shrimp and crab salad, and a salad Niçoise. The conch soup must have been put into a blender, making it something like a velouté. It was thick and tasty (a hint of nutmeg), but no discernible conch bits. The calamari turned out to be two large steaks with a caper and olive oil sauce - quite tasty and though chewy, as calamari can be, my hat is off to a chef who can make it this well. The salads were also good, but the interesting find was a 99 Bordeaux, Josephine du Boyd, the second growth of Ch Boyd-Cantenac ($42). It was well-developed, smooth, long-lasting, but not overly large - a good compromise for the large tastes in the escargot and the delicate tastes in the following fish courses. It's only 67% cabernet sauvignon, with generous amounts of cabernet franc, merlot, and verdot to soften the tannins, allowing the wine to taste quite civilized at the tender age for four and a half. With 15% added to the bill, it was not a cheap lunch at $194, but quite good and only half of it was food. We had two bottles of what we found to be a quite lovely, though a bit pricy for lunch, wine. 
Our guests wanted to go out on the Celine for the Lagoon Pub Crawl. The day was cloudy and as we got on board at Turtle Pier at 7PM, Mars and a tiny upturned crescent moon appeared above us, but an ugly cloud formation was coming toward us over the hills to the east. We left for Lal's, arrived before the storm, and enjoyed samosa and fried veg under cover, but the poor waitress was dodging raindrops (unsuccessfully) as she brought the food and drink. Lal actually has three not quite connected structures, a kitchen, a bar, and a dining area. It's a beautiful thing on a warm evening with a soft breeze, but except for lovers of impromptu wet tee shirt contests, it is less than ideal in cloudbursts. Liberal application of alcohol seemed to improve the forecast and by the time we left Lal's for Peg Leg Pub, it had stopped raining. We tried again for the lovely evening on the deck with a soft breeze, and again were rudely interrupted by a cloudburst. We huddled under an awning and passed plates of Peg Leg's delicious grilled tenderloin and swordfish. I've said that getting on and off the boat three time per cruise shuffles the passengers such that you get to meet new people all night long. It's even more likely if you are huddled under an awning passing plates of food. Again, the rain stopped and we headed back to Turtle Pier. We could hear the steel pan as we docked. Our tables were waiting and the serious drinking and dancing commenced, interrupted only by the arrival of Al's tasty ribs and conch fritters. I've seen better nights weather-wise, but there were about thirty people on that boat who didn't seem to mind. We were aided by our chief cheerleader, Kendall, and her hunka, hunka, burning love, Gary. The cost is $55 per person plus a tip for the deck hands who really earned it as they kept everyone sufficiently lubricated and swabbed the rain off the deck before we reboarded at Lal's and Peg Leg.
Thursday night was our guests' last night on the island, so after the wine tasting at Vinissimo, we went to  Temptation Restaurant for a final blowout meal. Dino Jagtiani is a local boy who went off to the Culinary Institute of America and returned home to open a restaurant that combines a spectacular dining room with a world class cuisine and wines. This year, they have extended the dining room with the addition of an outdoor dining area. The view is still not noteworthy, but they have continued the window waterfall treatment, so it is pretty and provides plenty of white noise. The menu changes frequently and even the dishes that remain on the menu change a bit from time to time as Dino continues to awaken your senses with his Nouveau Caribbean cuisine. We started with a portobello mushroom filled with red peppers and onions and topped with gouda and mozzarella cheese on a bed of arugula. Our guests had a seafood martini, essentially a ceviche, that was a bit light on lime with a hint of mayo, made with shrimp, scallop, and tuna served in a very large martini glass. Both aps were packed with interesting tastes and textures. Dino would not be content with just one cheese on his portobello, but used two and one was smoked. The ceviche had a bit more than just the usual lime marinade. We choose a 2000 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Burgundy ($94). Rather pricy, but this was our last meal together. It was a smooth, not particularly large, wine. Certainly the last bottle I had tried about eight years ago seemed much larger. We moved on to four fabulous dinners: a braised veal chop with mushrooms, a rosemary roasted rack of New Zealand spring lamb served with spinach-cannelini bean-risotto, basil oil, and balsamic vinegar reduction, a Saba coast grouper filet braised with red wine, stewed onions, roasted peppers, baby tomatoes, and gruyere curd served with home made spinach ricotta ravioli, and a grilled mahi filet with a roasted red pepper and corn broth and a mushroom ragout. The Burgundy ran out and we switched to the Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 ($29).
I have said it before and I'll say it again, this is an amazing wine at the price. I actually didn't say it at the table until our guests remarked that they liked this wine better! The 45th parallel runs through Rhone and Bordeaux, so this is Jaboulet's way of saying that his wines are as good as theirs. For what it is worth, the 45th runs south of San Francisco, causing Randall Graham of Bonny Doon and his ilk to use Rhone varietals and call themselves the Rhone rangers. If you need a chuckle, read some of Randall's Bonny Doon labels. The ATF, that wonderful group that polices such dangerous substances as Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, had ruled that all wines must have their alcohol content posted on the front of the bottle. How one determines what is the front of a cylindrical object is an exercise only a bureaucrat would undertake. Randall added the usual don't drink with heavy equipment operators or you'll get pregnant (or something like that) official government warning and the alcoholic content on a label and called it the "FRONT". The other label was a typical lovely label with the wine's name, provenance, etc. Most wine stores put the "BACK" facing their customers. Ya gotta love it. BTW, the ATF also ruled that beer makers could NOT put the alcohol content on their product. Go figure.
But I digress. The dinners were as fabulous as I hoped for our guests' last night on the island. Read the preparations above and consider the number of flavors blended together. A good chef can choose flavors that complement one another, contemplate textures, and produce a visual and culinary masterpiece. Some of your money pays for his abilities, but some of it pays for the extra ingredients and the extra time to put them together in a visually pleasing manner. Some of your money also goes to hiring competent wait staff and a sufficiency of them. Do I need someone to fill my wine glass? No, not really. I've filled many a wine glass in my days, but isn't it nice to have someone who will fill yours and, moreover, mention that your bottle is getting low. I said I wanted the Jaboulet and the waiter said that they had both a Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone and a Crozes-Hermitage on the wine list (three pages, over 100 bottles). Impressive. 
But I digress. Deepti at DK Gems said that Dino made her a special dessert and that we should ask for it. This is the single thing that flummoxed our superb waiter. Dino was requested and the desired dessert was produced, basically a variation on one of the chocolate sensations on the menu. I wish I could say more, but I was talking with Dino when the dessert and four spoons arrived at the table. By the time I returned all that was left were smiles (and chocolate dribbles) on the faces of my three companions. It was a seriously wonderful night, not exactly cheap but our food was only $150 for four, our expensive drinking habits added another $150 (I forgot to mention my Armagnac), and we added a tip. 
Friday afternoon at the cognac tasting I received a call on my cell phone from other friends who had just arrived on the island. We were thinking of a quiet evening, attempting to recover from our overindulgence of the last ten days, but agreed to call our local bistro, Montmartre, and secure last minute reservations on a busy Friday night. They turned out to be necessary as things have started to heat up in preparation for the Regatta. Geoff Hielmann of Chesterfield's Restaurant and the rest of his crewmates were taking up the last table for eight as we were enjoying our appetizers of the smoked fish plate (tuna, salmon, and swordfish) with toast and whipped chive cream and the roasted scallops wrapped in bacon with a bottle of the Rully, a flavorful white wine from the Cote Chalonnaise, in southern Burgundy. Our dinners were two tuna steaks with artichoke hearts and a confit of tomato, a whole sole meunière, filleted at the table by Olivier, and a special of ray, pike, and shrimp in a bit of puff pastry. We went with a lighter red, Fixin, from the northern end of Burgundy, near Dijon and were happy with the dinners and the accompanying wine. Service remained quite good, though rushed, even with an overfull house, expanding to the tables outside in the courtyard! Our friends are known dessert eaters and Olivier cleverly exploited their weakness and delivered a regular crème brûlée and a raspberry version with four spoons. The voting was close by the raspberry won by bit. Some decaf coffees and a few flavored rums finished a wonderful evening and allowed all concerned to sleep peacefully.