St Maarten/St Martin
24 April 2004 Newsletter

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Apologies: While we are at it, apologies go out to the people who got an extra copy of the newsletter last week. We had guests last week and were celebrating his 50th birthday for the entire week. It appears I got up and went to the computer one morning before I woke up.
Weather and Beaches: Saturday was pretty good, a bit cloudy, especially later in the day. Sure enough, on Sunday the island was covered with grey clouds and a couple waves of tropical storms sent the tourists working on their morning tans scattering. By 10AM blue sky appeared and we spent the afternoon on Cupecoy watching six foot rollers eat away at our beach. Pretty cloudy on Monday, but warm. Tuesday and Wednesday were more of the same, but by Wednesday it was mostly sunny and quite warm. We did go out to Orient and were impressed with the amount of sand in the middle of the beach (near Pirate).  Thursday and Friday were great beach days. Friday at Cupecoy found the waters clear and calm for great snorkeling. Saturday has dawned fairly clear.
Photo feature: There are some photos of the gardens at Sapphire at a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. It has been a fairly rainy and warm winter so they are beautiful.
Wines:  The Thursday wine tasting at Vinissimo has faded, much like the tourist population. Sylvain and Marina are still happy to offer a few samples to customers, however. Print out the coupon on the Vinissimo website and stop in.
Groceries:  We went to US Import at Magasin du Pont in Sandy Ground to get some cheese and pate for lunch. The Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins says that Chaource, a cow's milk cheese from the Champagne region, is similar to brie in recipe and butterfat, and in its aged state is quite creamy, but so fragile that few importers bring it into the US. We found some from Hugerot, a favored producer, in the case at the rear of the store. We also found three round wheels, about 2 inches in diameter, of St Marcellin. Both were great at lunch, but Jenkins recommends the Chaource with Champagne. For our birthday boy guest, we got some duck breasts for dinner with a 96 Volnay from Bouchard, but before that there will be Chaource with Champagne. The combination was fabulous, but we suggest you don't wait until your fiftieth birthday. 
Temptation Restaurant is sponsoring the current contest, which will run until 16 May. Just click their name to 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, but you are not automatically signed up for the contest. You do have to go to their website and click the email link to show you visited their site. 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 great meal at Temptation.
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:
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 27 January 2005 - a week of gym usage for two
California Restaurant - 28 January to 17 February 2005
Escargot Restaurant - 18 February to 4 March 2005
Hot Tomatoes - 5 March to 26 March 2005
The Horny Toad Guesthouse - 27 March to 24 April 2005 - seven low season days for the price of five
Celine Pub Crawl - 25 April to 5 June 2005 - two tickets on the Lagoon Pub Crawl
Another contest: Hot Tomatoes has a contest on their website to kick off their combination lagoon cruise/dinner package. You can now take sunset lagoon cruise on White Octopus  and follow it up with a dinner at Hot Tomatoes. They are giving away a two pizza dinner with a bottle of red, but you have to go to the website, click the comments link, and send in some comments. Somebody's going to get two pizzas with a bottle of red just for saying something that tickles our fancy. I talked to Brad last night and we're looking for 25 entries. As soon as we get 25, we'll post them, and pick a winner. While you are there, look over Brad's site, check out the coupon, and take a look at the White OctopusWe have almost enough entries, but there is room for a few more.
Previous contest: Vincent of Thai Garden reports that David Debes, the winner, sent his son and daughter, who had a wonderful time. Their 15 minutes of fame is now assured by the photo on the site.
On 17 April the euro was at 1.193 and today it's at 1.188. Still not much going on there, but it's still heading in the right direction. 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, Pirate on Orient (not Repaire du Pirate in Grand Case), Restaurant du Soliel, Pedro's (priced in dollars - no conversion ever), Saint Germain, and Paradise View.
I have taken Petite Auberge des Iles off the list because I so no sign to that effect as we walked by on our way to Belle Epoque on Monday. the prices were all in euros and were all quite good. This is why I say you should know what the euro is worth. Some places have lowered prices. It appears that this lovely spot on the marina and Bistrot Caraibes have done so.
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. Some restaurants have lowered their prices.  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 Rainbow Café. We hadn't been there since December and when I called Nori over for a wine consultation he replied that we had drunk the 2001 Mercurey premier cru Clos Paradis Domaine Voarick ($40) on our last visit. I do like a good waitstaff and Rainbow has one of the best. We ordered the wine and moved on to a baked St Marcellin cheese with greens, tomatoes, and egg; a Caesar salad, and sea scallops wrapped in bacon with wakame seaweed in a light curry sauce. The first ap (and a similar one at Escapade earlier in the year) convinced us to buy the St Marcellin at US Import on Sunday. Sea scallops and bacon are a classic dish and the addition of a light curry sauce with crunchy wakame seaweed is great. Our dinners were sea bass on a bed of artichoke hearts with braised endive and tomatoes with a balsamic drizzle,  sesame-crusted seared tuna with a rice cracker with oriental vegetables in a ponzu sauce, and veal chop with grain mustard sauce and garlic mashed potatoes. The quality of the ingredients was top-notch, absolutely fresh fish and a fabulous piece of veal. The sauces were wonderful and the accompaniments were very good. The birthday boy had a bread pudding for dessert while the rest of the table had cognac and cheered him on. After dinner we repaired to the upstairs deck to gaze out at Anguilla and enjoy the soft night air with our cognac. A great night with a bill at about $350 with a well deserved extra tip, but they do offer $1=1€. 
On Monday we went to Belle Epoque for an inexpensive night on the Marigot Marina. The wine of the night was a 22€ Cru Beaujolais, Brouilly. Pretty good stuff and quite good with some marinated mussels and salmon on a bed of greens. We moved on to dinners of veal liver with a tomato, onions, olive oil, and parsley sauce and a side of mashed; chicken breast bits with mushrooms in a cream sauce with broccoli, carrots, and fried potatoes; a tuna steak with anchoiade (tomato, garlic, anchovy, and herbs) with rice, carrots, and broccoli; and a four seasons pizza. No complaints all around. The tuna was sashimi quality and quite tasty in its sauce. The chicken dish was well-conceived and quite tasty. Beef liver is liver and if you like it, also quite good. I cannot comment on the first half of the pizza, but it made an excellent breakfast. The profiteroles vanished before I could have any, so I must assume that they were well-received. All this with good, though fast, efficient, but still friendly service in a very busy place. When you sell food this good in a lively atmosphere on the water (ok, marina) at only $170 for four with two bottles of wine, you can expect to be busy. Most main courses hover around the 20€ mark, many below.
On Tuesday the birthday boy played golf and the rest of us had a shopping day in Pburg. We had a long chat with JP and Vero at Antoine Restaurant. She had clipped the Front Street Beautification article from the Daily Herald. They will be planting 300 royal palm trees and upgrading the sidewalks and streetlights from Holland House to Sea Palace. This is in addition to the extension of the boardwalk from the Captain Hodge Wharf to the Sea View Hotel. It's all supposed to be finished before the next high season. The women were shopping so I strolled down the street and found one of the first casualties of this new round of Pburg improvement. It seems some landlords are upgrading their properties and some shops and restaurants will be closed for a time. they have been offered options on the new improved space, but there are lots of questions and at least a year with no home.
We all met up back at Antoine Restaurant and all of us had Salades Niçoise and a bottle of white burgundy with a large bottle of water on a hot and muggy day. It's a great way to loaf away the heat of the day, gazing out at the huge cruiseships on the left and the 12-metre boats zipping by in the foreground.
That evening we got out to Grand Case for the penultimate Harmony Night. As usual, we arrived early to get a parking spot in the lot across from Nettuno and walked down to Domaine de L'Amandier to watch the sunset and drink a bottle of Bourgogne Aligoté. Cedric assured us that the sun set behind the wall of clouds and I guess he was right as it did get a bit darker. That is our signal that the 6:00PM start of festivities, may actually be happening as the sun sets at about 6:30. There was a pretty good jazz group at the lolos and Pedrin Pacheco was playing down by La Marine where we picked up a bottle of chardonnay and plastic cups. As we walked back to our 8PM reservation at Bistrot Caraibes, we saw The Boys arriving. That would be spot on time for a Caribbean String Band.
Our table was ready and we sat down to a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, a well-mannered Rhone that played nice with the smoked salmon, frog legs, and goat cheese and smoked duck in puff pastry on a bed of greens. Our dinners were sea bass, parmentier (grilled sea scallops and bacon on a bed of mashed potatoes in an aromatic reduction sauce), red snapper, and lamb chops with crisp butter beans in a reduction sauce. The quality of the dinner reminded our guests of why this is the only restaurant that they specifically requested. Another bottle of the C-H was required and dinner ended with a hot chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and coffee sauce and a few Armagnacs.
The next Harmony Night, 27 April, will be the last.
We went to Orient for lunch at Pirate. The tuna salad was only $6, conch salad is only $8, and two pieces of grilled swordfish with rice and peas and salad was only $12. Lunch for four on the beach was only $40. good food and a great view of a rather large beach with Green Cay in the background. However, it was cloudy and windy, so we passed on the offer of two chairs, an umbrella, and two drinks for $14.
Dinner on our friend's final night was at Mario's Bistro. The website is a bit slow in coming, but the food is still great. They had mussels so the usual mussel special was available as an ap or a main course: lovely mussels in a tomato broth with cheese. Martyne told me a while ago that these are PEI mussels, which goes along with their French-Canadian heritage. We had four amazing dinners: snapper on a crab risotto with a lemon and butter sauce, peppered swordfish with braised leeks, scallops with mashed potatoes laced with crab and drizzled with white truffle oil, and tuna on a bed of gnocchi with a light tomato sauce. We had a bottle of Drouhin's 99 Pommard ($58) to help celebrate the birthday boy's special day and tapered off to the Mercurey for the end of the meal. A candle arrived in his very tasty apple tart as we enjoyed Ch Fontpinot cognac. With the expensive wine, our bill reached $290, but the food was great and the service was spectacular.
We used Hot Tomatoes as our departure lounge. We took our guests to the airport two and a half hours before their Continental flight and they whisked through all the lines in about 15 minutes. We arrived at Hot Tomatoes at noon, ordered a Hot Tomatoes burger, a St Maarten strong man pizza (steamed fresh spinach, roasted garlic, smoked mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil), and an Anguillan Piggy Pie with a bottle of the Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone. We had the leftover pizza boxed up for breakfast and the $75 bill paid by 1 PM. We went to the parking lot (ample parking is a wonderful thing here in Simpson Bay), hopped in the car, and in five minutes our guests were heading through immigration.
Friday night we had a cocktail party at Bliss for sponsors of the St Maarten Open Golf Tournament. They get about 100 golfers from here, other islands, and even a few tourists to compete for some prizes, but the real deal is that everyone is supposed to bid at a silent auction for all the things that various businesses have donated. All the proceeds go to charity. I won't pretend that the finger food at a cocktail party is representative of the chef's capabilities, so we can skip the food chat, but this location is spectacular. The beauty of the place is that they are just a few steps to the water and only a couple feet above it, with a lovely view to the south and west. Unfortunately, Luis didn't do the area any favors coming in from the east in 95, but when Lenny spun in off the Yucatan in 99, this area was a disaster.
After cocktails we dropped in on Montmartre Restaurant. They have several tables outside and, without reservations, we were quite happy to sit out there. Soon, the planting boxes will be filled with shrubs and it will be a lovely area. We merely had a bottle of the 97 Beaune Champ Pimont ($45) and two specials: capon leg and thigh stuffed with foie gras and liver and a sirloin steak with oyster mushrooms and Béarnaise sauce. The wine is quite nice, especially after it warms up a bit from the refrigerated storage temperature. It was great with the full flavors of these two dishes. Service was good, even though the restaurant was packed. The two main waiters, Olivier and Arsene, are among the best on the island and a third (Mark) is in training. There is a bartender and Karen runs the front of the house. By the end of the evening, her husband Pascal had come over from L'Auberge Gourmande and Sunset Café in Grand Case.
We will be leaving the island in a couple weeks. Our one bedroom condo will be available for rent until we return in mid-December. Last year we replaced the microwave with a new GE Advantium model and this year we replaced the refrigerator and dishwasher. The unit was painted. New drapes were put in front and back. All the upholstery was recovered and a new cover was put on the king size bed. We rent it for $1000 per week and throw in a $50 voucher on a dinner for two at either Hot Tomatoes or Sitar. As a special offer for newsletter subscribers, we'll take another $50 off for any reservations made before we leave the island on 10 May. The rest of May is lovely and our on-island friends tell us that June is calm and quiet. July is largely taken already and August is when the French arrive for their month's holiday, so the restaurants are all open. September is probably the hottest and wettest month, so many restaurateurs close and take their vacations. We have been here in October and November and loved it. By then the restaurateurs are back and trying out new ideas. Go over to our website, check out the unit and its fabulous views, check the calendar for availability, and send us an email if you are interested.
Look on the SXM-Restaurants website for a list of all restaurants that have coupons for some freebie. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper.
Vinissimo has added a coupon offering a 10% discount on all purchases.
L'Esperance Hotel (www.LesperanceHotel.com) in Philipsburg is bargain at $65 per night for a 1BR suite with a kitchen. It's not on the water, but they have a pool.
Delfina (www.SXM-Hotels.com/delfina) charges $135 per night for a double and includes two breakfasts and evening cocktails. They are in the Cupecoy area, not on the beach, but close enough to walk and they have a pool.
The Banana Cabana (www.SXM-hotels.com/index.html#bc), a one bedroom studio on the lagoon in Cupecoy, is only $695 for the week all taxes and service included. Flash news announcement: this rate has just increased $5?
California (www.SXM-hotels.com/california has two apartments for rent that are right on the water in Grand Case. The one bedroom, sleeps four, is $750 (dropping to $550 soon) and the two bedroom, sleeps six, maybe more, is $1100 for the week (dropping to $900 soon).