St Maarten/St Martin
20 March 2004 Newsletter

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Weather and Beaches: The last thing I said last week was: Seas have been fairly calm all week. Too calm. By late Saturday morning the wind picked up and shifted to the SW. The surf off Cupecoy started to pick up and by the afternoon 15 foot rollers were breaking a half mile off the shore. The surfer dudes were thrilled and the beach boys were in a funk. It had calmed down on Sunday, but a tropical rainstorm enveloped the island. As Cupecoy was gone, we went to Galion and Orient and even they had wind, gray skies, intermittent rain, and cold weather. We stopped at Pedro's but Elise wasn't sure that she would even have the band play given the wind whipping salt spray into the building. We had reservations at Kakao, so we drove along a fairly deserted beach to a fairly empty restaurant. Surprisingly, it stayed clear (at least rain-free) for the rest of the afternoon and the sun did peek out frequently. After lunch we walked all the way up to Boo Boo Jam and there is plenty of sand. It's just thin down by Pedro's, although they have chairs out next to the parking lot to their SE. Monday finally brought decent weather, still hazy on the horizon, but a nice afternoon on Bay Rouge, which has plenty of sand at the moment. Tuesday was rainy in the morning, but cleared in the late afternoon. There is a bit of beach at Cupecoy. We went to Grand Case for dinner and can report that Amandier has enough sand for a row of beach chairs, making it one of the most pleasant spots on the island for a day at the beach. Wednesday morning brought rain and Saba was difficult to see over the whitecaps on the Caribbean. The lagoon seemed calmer so we headed to Orient for a lunch at Bikini Beach. We drove over to the Pinel Ferry in Cul de Sac and at five bucks a head round trip we were treated to a nice beach, great snorkeling, and an interesting walk to the highest point on the island (39 meters, about 130 feet). The beach at the dock is in good shape, but the small beach on the windward side is windy. Whoda guessed? It also has collected the flotsam and jetsam from about 6000 miles of ocean to the east. We got the 4PM ferry from Pinel back to Cul de Sac and made it to SunsetCafé in Grand Case with plenty of time to get a few drinks and walk up to the belvedere for a great sunset complete with a green flash. Thursday was a beautiful day as the wind died down and the sun came out and Friday was even better, but not much sand is left in Cupecoy's little cove. Saturday has dawned with hazy and cloudy conditions, but it is warm and it is not raining!
Restaurant news: Mambo in Grand Case is having Créole Buffet on Saturday 3 April for 30€. If you haven't tasted chef Eric's cuisine, this would be the perfect opportunity.
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 are some chickens wandering around La Sucriére on the Marigot waterfront and some shots of Dawn Beach from the high road, plus some bonus coverage of a great sunset at  Amandier.
Wines:  The Thursday wine tasting at Vinissimo started with a 2001 Pouilly-Fuissé from Bouchard, a crisp chardonnay at $18. The $30 1999 Hermitage from the Rhone Valley was extremely flavorful. In the Rhone, chardonnay is not used, but eight other white wine grapes are permitted, chiefly viognier, roussane, marsanne, and clairette. The final white was a 97 Alsatian Pinot Gris from Zind Humbrecht ($38). This is the wine that the connoisseurs wax ecstatic over: hints of tropical fruit, bruised apples, etc. It was amazing to find a seven year old white wine with this much flavor and a promise of a 20 to 30 year lifespan. If you like white wine and this fits your budget, they have even more vintages available. The reds started with Bouchard's 97 Vosne-Romanee at $32, but we liked last weeks 96 Volnay better (and it was cheaper at $25). A 2000 Cahors was quite good at a mere $10, in fact we liked it better than Bonny Doon's Ca' del Sol at $15. The lesson is probably that one should buy US wines in the US and French wines here. A final 94 Conde de Valdemar Gran Riserva ($25) was a wonderful Spanish Rioja. With 10 year's age it is starting to shine and will probably last another 10 to 20 years. For dessert we had an 84 Rivesaltes ($27). If you like dessert wines, this one from the extreme SW Mediterranean coast of France is worth knowing about. Sylvain said the fabulous breads came from La Sucriére on the Marigot waterfront and the tasty pâtés came from the butcher in Concordia.
Thai Garden is sponsoring the current contest, which will run until I change it over later today, 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. If I get there before you, you'll find a link to Unity car rental for the next contest. 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.
Here is the list of future sponsors. We urge you all to sign up ONCE for each contest. 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 - $100 off a week's car rental
Temptation Restaurant - 16 April to 16 May - $100 off a meal for two
Vacation Suites - 17 May to 30 June - prize: 1 free week over the summer!
L'Auberge Gourmande - 1 July to 15 August - $100 off a meal for two
Sunset Café - 16 August to 30 September - $100 off a meal for two
Montmartre Restaurant - 1 October to 15 November - $100 off a meal for two
Sealine Charters - 16 November to 15 December
Chez Pat/Tropical Wave - 16 December to 6 January - $100 off a day at the beach: food, drinks, chairs, windsurf lessons, etc
Marci's Mega Gym - 7 January to 28 January - a week of gym usage for two
On 13 Mar the euro was at 1.22 and today it's at 1.228 - a slow week on the foreign exchange market. 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. This list includes California, Escapade, Balaou, Santal, Enoch's Place, Au Beaujolais, Rainbow, Oizeau Rare, and Pirate, Restaurant du Soliel, Pedro's (priced in dollars - no conversion ever), and Paradise View. 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. 
While walking around the Marigot market and environs on the dreary Saturday, we found Au Beaujolais in the previous location of Charolais in downtown Marigot. It had an inexpensive bistro menu and a special of Moules frites (mussels and French fries). My ex boss and wife had arrived the night before and even though it was only 11 AM (9 AM in Houston, their home), he was hungry. Then again he had just returned from China, so it is unclear where his stomach was. Then again, again, he is always hungry. We first met on my first trip to Europe about thirty years ago in Antwerp, a great place for seafood. I had no idea that people did not regularly order an appetizer, a platter of seafood, a meat course, and dessert, washing it all down with liters of white and red wine. Unfortunately, Au Beaujolais was out of mussels, special sign notwithstanding. The sign did get the taste buds salivating, so we set off for Oizeau Rare, which unfortunately, was closed on Saturday. We walked along the waterfront, past La Vie en Rose, checked the freshwater shrimp at Arawak (22€), passed on Bar de La Mer, and checked out Durreche Traiteur. Still no mussels, but four Plats du Jour for 8€, with veg or fries and a drink. We got a braised beef with carrots, a shrimp brochette, a duck leg with Chinese spices, and a seafood gratin for the mussel man. A bottle of water, a bottle of white Bordeaux, and a bottle of red Bordeaux brought the meal up to $60 even with an additional tip. Everything was quite tasty, even if not terribly elegant, a perfect spot for a lunch break while shopping.
On Saturday evening we went to a BBQ at The Horny Toad Guesthouse. No, they are not open to the public for dinner, but Betty frequently fires up the BBQ for guests, neighbors, webmasters, etc. Generally, it requires the slightest hint of a holiday or birthday or something, and even though I never could determine what we were celebrating, the quantity of alcohol consumed definitely made it a celebration. In the course of the evening we were talking to Betty's neighbors, Burt and Irene. Burt remarked that they had just returned from a great meal at Rainbow Café and that they had won a $100 gift certificate. I asked if he was Burt Monchik and when he said he was, I said that the contest came from this newsletter that I wrote. We had known each other for a couple years, but even after he won the contest, I never made the connection and neither did he. After dinner we walked a few doors down the beach to Brad and Tekkie's house. They and several of the staff from their restaurant, Hot Tomatoes, and several friends were celebrating Tekkie's birthday.

On Sunday we went for a great lunch at Kakao on Orient Beach. The weather as noted earlier was cloudy and subject to morning rain, but by 1PM it had stopped raining and started to clear. We had a fried calamari starter, a Créole fish combination platter, a very tasty curried (using colombo) chicken salad, a fish combination platter, and a half duck with girolles. I know that they serve real meals and do a good job, but I usually get a pizza for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by how good everything was. Girolles are one of the most expensive mushrooms and my plate was loaded with them, plus button mushrooms, potatoes, and a green something containing zucchini (see the website). The weather was better, but hardly hot enough for swimming, so we worked our way through three bottles of rosé and a round of vanilla rum before we went for a walk at 3:30. Our bill was $190, a bit extravagant for lunch, but it did last about three hours!
On Monday night we went to Hot Tomatoes for a couple pizzas and a salad. I still think that the wood-fired oven makes the best pizzas on the island. Add in Carlsberg beer on tap and have a great cheap meal (with leftovers for breakfast) for four people for about $80.
On Tuesday we went to Grand Case for another one of the Harmony Nights street fairs. We arrived at about quarter to six. The street was open and we pulled into the largely empty parking lot across from Nettuno. We walked down to Amandier to watch the sunset. I've put some beautiful photos (if I do say so myself)  in the photo section. By about 6:45 we were strolling back toward the center of town, stopping at Michael's Café for a Sam Adams to fuel further strolling. The barrier preventing car traffic was in place just west of Michael's. We headed in past many tables just beginning to be set up and reached a Latino band in front of Cottage. They also were still setting up, but by about 7:15 we were tapping our feet to a salsa beat. We walked all the way down to California and Mambo to see the Gunslingers steel pan orchestra. There are about a dozen people playing even more pans and drums. I rather like the music, especially in an orchestral format and these boys (most are teenagers) put on quite a show. We bought a bottle of La Vignee chardonnay from Maryline at Mambo with four plastic cups and watched the show for some time. Our 8:00 PM reservations at Bistrot Caraibes beckoned, so we retraced our steps back to the center of town. By now a reggae band was in operation, so we caught a pair of tunes there. Wouldn't you know that the last band to get going would be the boys from Jamaica, mon. Just when you think you have it all figured out, we walked past a jazz combo that really was the last to get started.
If you wish to wander around the street fair and return to a front row table at Bistrot Caraibes, L'Auberge Gourmande, or Cottage, you must have reservations. As we walked past L'Auberge Gourmande and Cottage, I noticed that their streetside tables were filled. You can't get much closer to the action than the few porch tables at L'Auberge Gourmande and the view from Cottage's raised porch is fabulous, but this is hardly a secret, so reserve early. I had asked for a front row table for four and as we walked in the door Thibault said hello and motioned us to the only empty table in the house. The wine list arrived with the laminated menus. I have spoken against laminated menus, but these are of a color and style that matches the decor - quite tasteful - and, most importantly, they have a pocket on the front cover that holds a page of specials, usually three aps and three mains. My only problem here is that my adventurous nature leads me toward the Scylla of the specials but my previous experience crashes me against the Charibdis of my old favorites. The only solution was to have the wonderful smoked salmon off the menu with a bottle of 99 Rully from Drouhin (40€) and the lamb chop special (lamb chops on a bed of creamy garlic mashed potatoes with tomatoes, asparagus, and butter beans in a reduction sauce) with a bottle of 2000 Crozes-Hermitage. My espousal of the salmon brought another order and our third ap was the sautéed sea scallops and royal shrimps with crispy vegetables in a garlic sauce. Dinners were two of the lamb chop specials (20€), the marmite (braised red snapper with vegetables in a creamy mussel sauce with saffron (21€)), and the French seabass special (24€), which is available whenever they can get the fish. The lamb chops and Crozes-Hermitage were a great combo and the marmite with saffron had more than enough flavor to stand up to it. The delicate seabass may have benefited from a white or lighter red. Two bottles of water and a coffee plus complimentary after-dinner drinks rounded out the evening, bringing the bill to 211€, converted at 1.2 to $253. They are using essentially a "real" exchange rate, but their lowered prices make the bill about what one would pay in many of the 1 to 1 establishments. This restaurant still thrills me with its menu, service, and prices.
As mentioned under beaches, we had lunch at Bikini Beach on St Paddy's Day. A shrimp salad, a scallop and shrimp Thai concoction, a half of a very large chicken smoked, and bouillabaisse with a bottle of rosé. I tend to forget just how good these beach bars at the northern end of Orient are. I had the shrimp and scallops with bamboo shoots and strips of red pepper in a basil sauce - lots of flavors and textures plus a side of rice. The bouillabaisse was loaded with fish, mussels, and more - very flavorful and it came with a side of rice. The chicken was quite moist and tasty and came with fries. The shrimp salad was the only thing that wasn't too much too eat, but of course, this didn't stop us. With a bottle of water and the complimentary coconut rum drink, our bill was $120 for a wonderful lunch.
We had our traditional St Paddy's Day dinner at The Horny Toad Guesthouse. It was a nine course extravaganza: boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, boiled corned beef finished on the grill, and a six-pack of Guinness.
Friday night at Saint Severin in Marigot is a tradition. The seafood starts arriving from Paris on the Air France flight on Wednesday and by Thursday night the platters of seafood start to show up in restaurants. The large platter featuring a crab, several large shrimp, oysters, mussels, shellfish, and more is 45€, which at 1.1 to 1 is about $50. It really is enough for two people. Four of us had that, an extra half dozen oysters (never can tell when you might the benefits of oysters), and an Indonesian shrimp salad as aps. The shrimp were slightly spicy with carrots, bean sprouts, and arugula with a hint of mint. We also had three other dinners: grilled duck breast with a caramelized shallot sauce (only $20), fresh foie gras sautéed in a truffle sauce ($29), and another fish explosion, the zarzuela(about $29). Dominique, owner of this restaurant and La Marine in Grand Case, imports duck breasts and foie gras. Many local people think that the foie gras here is the best on the island. Certainly, it is about the cheapest. The downside is that there is no view and you better look at the map to find it on the outskirts of Marigot across from a large parking lot. With water, a bottle of Muscadet, a bottle of Chablis (from Louis Latour - crisp and tasty), and a bottle of Pommard (from Aleth Le Royer-Girardin - lovely), our bill was only $240.