St Maarten/St Martin
22 December 2004 Newsletter

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Trip report: We flew out on a 19F morning, getting up at 6AM, shutting down the house, and leaving for the airport by 8M. No problems through two plane changes and we arrived essentially on time at 11:15. Add in in immigration, baggage claim, and car rental and we got to Sapphire at about midnight. We give a large thank you to Timothy Young who met us at the airport to deliver the car from Esperance Car Rental at that late hour. Our experience in immigration is not much of an indication of what Saturday timeshare-turnover will be like, but we moved swiftly. We had no trouble getting the cat out of the US and into St Maarten. There are rules about bringing in animals and getting them back home, but basically you have to get a bit of paperwork that nobody ever looks at.
Petite Favorite: while wandering around Grand Case, we happened upon this new building between Le Cottage and Le Maëva. It houses some of the production from Perfect Ti Pot and Gary, (a clay artist), AIA Massage, a clothing shop, and a restaurant. There is an artist's studio on the second floor and usually someone is there making something. It certainly provides an interesting diversion if one arrives early for dinner. We have a lovely set of plates and a large platter from Celine at the Ti Pot and the unit next to ours is decorated with many things from Gary.
Sailing: Neil on Celine has set up a charter on the Saturday of the Heineken Regatta (5 March 2005). At $75 per person, it includes a complete day on the sea with all food and drink. It is a long way off, but the island gets pretty crowded and the charter boats fill up. If you want a front row seat for the action, go to Neil's website, check  out the regatta page, and send him an email reservation. 
Photo feature: There are some new photos in a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. They featured views from Cliffhanger, a view of a rainbow from our balcony (and the Orient Express construction site), an iguana crossing the road, and some Camembert outlawed by the US.
Driving: The middle of the afternoon has been getting pretty difficult from Philipsburg through Simpson Bay. It took us 1.5 hours from Cost-U-Less to our home in Sapphire last week, most of it on the hill out of Philipsburg because of the backup from the turnoff in Cole Bay. The Cakehouse Road shortcut is now paved and one way from Philipsburg to Cole Bay, but you still must fight your way to the bridge and there is only one. Our advice, go to the beach early, have lunch, and stay late Bridge openings are now Dutch side 9:00AM, 11:30AM, and 5:30PM, both ways and the French side 8:15AM, 2:30PM, 5:30 PM, both ways. 
The contest for the $100 gift certificate at Rainbow Cafe was won by Donna Lott. The previous newsletter was a bit early because I rather doubted that I'd be able to get my internet access sorted out in one day. I actually drove to Philipsburg the day after we arrived, paid CaribServe.net, and got a new CD worth of drivers for my new laptop and was online later that afternoon. Nonetheless, I'm having issues with FTP access to some of the websites so not all of them reflect the fact that that contest is over and Chez Pat/Tropical Wave is sponsoring the new contest, running from 16 December to 6 January. Just click their name to go to their website, find the link to sign up for the SXM-Info newsletter and contest, 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 really do have to go to their website and click the email link to show you visited their site. 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. The prize is $100 off a day at the beach: food, drinks, chairs, windsurf lessons, etc.
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:
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
Escapade Restaurant - 6 June to 17 July 2005
We went to Vinissimo on late on Wednesday and tasted some Bergerac Sec, Savennieres, and a 2001 Cote de Beaune Villages, buying a mixed case for $158. they gave a 1.30 exchange rate which is better than I can get from my credit card company. The Bergerac comes from an area in the east of Bordeaux. Sylvain had found it this summer and thought it was quite nice in a Semillon/sauvignon blanc way ($13). The Savennieres comes from the Loire Valley between Anjou and Nantes ($11). The Cotes de Beaune Villages comes from several villages in the hills to the east of Beaune ($14).We found it to be a pretty good Burgundy for only $14. We returned the next day for the regular Thursday tasting and went through too many bottles to remember, but one was a $6 French merlot that was drinkable, quite an accomplishment in a $6 wine. The two stars of the day were the Segla, the second wine of Ch Rauzan Segla in Margaux and a Rivesaltes for dessert. The first wines from Rauzan Segla sell for about $150 per bottle and the seconds are quite good at a quarter the price. The Rivesaltes is an area on the Med, almost to the Spanish border. Lots of sun and little rain makes for grapes with lots of sugar, some of which is left over when the fermentation ends, producing a sweet wine. Marina said that a major shipment of Champagne has not made it to the island and the Christmas/New Year's celebration may not be quite as merry. Don't forget that there is a regular wine tasting on Thursdays with some cheese, pate, and bread. The website has a coupon good for 10% off and they deliver on case orders.
On Saturday we stopped at Magasin du Pont (US Import) in Sandy Ground for our cheesy French comestibles. While I was buying pates and ham, Martha spotted a round of Camembert from the Moulin de Carel. We got some bread from the bakery next door and went home for a great lunch. We checked in the Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins and found that he feels this is the top Camembert. Unfortunately, it is made from raw milk and is near-impossible to get in America, so come on down. It's worth the airfare. There is a photo of the label with this week's SXM photos
On 14 Dec the euro was at 1.322 and today it's at 1.331, not much happening and none of it good. 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. We got that at California in Grand Case on Friday and Escapade was offering the same. We will let you know about other places as we find them. 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 to do complex financial calculations, so don't worry about it too much.
Changes: A drive from Sapphire Beach Club to Marigot revealed that La Plage in Nettle Bay has morphed into Boucaniers. A bit further, La Dolce Vita, next to Mario's Bistro, has closed. We had two very good meals there in it's short run. Roger's has become Sandy's Barbecue Ranch and Chili's is now the Oasis. It's tough to run a restaurant amongst the cheapest all-inclusive hotels on the island. Mario's BistroLayla's, and Thai Garden have done it for may years and two newcomers from last year, Rocky's Ideal Snack and Le Grand Muraille (The Great Wall) are still there.
A tour of Simpson Bay showed that Sitar was indeed gone and Perroquet was still closed. The Stop and Shop/Yummie terrace across from the airport has been demolished but Lal's next door, and Café Juliana are still open, so you can get a cold one as you await your flight. Even further, Philly Joe's Pizza was still open and even had it's name spelled correctly this year. We bumped into Neil Rooney from Buccaneer and Pierre from Pineapple Pete's while shopping at Cost-U-Less in Pburg. They seem to be doing well. Spartaco in Almond Grove has closed for renovations and a talk with Spartaco makes me feel that this may be the rare restaurant that actually reopens after renovations. We hope so.
Dining: We had lots of shopping to do and headed for Philipsburg late on Wednesday morning. We got to Pondfill about 11:45 and found that Los Gauchos was open for lunch. We had a rather tasty burger and a rib-eye steak. The steak came with a variation on sauce chien (hot with onions, oil, peppers) and chimmichurri, both good. They serve Argentine beef finished on grass, not grain, so being lower in fat, it is not as juicy. Order it a bit rarer than normal. With a couple of cold caribs added to the 15% service charge and an additional 10% tip, the charge was $33.
We had dinner at Belle Epoque on the Marigot Marina on Wednesday after a rather liquid early evening at Vinissimo. Next door, Chanteclair was not terribly full, but Belle Epoque filled up while we were there. We were rather tired and wanted a simple meal. We ordered the fish of the day, the pizza of the day, and the wine of the week. The prices were quite good, portions were large, and the food was very good. The fish was from the Med, a sarr, sart, or possibly a sare. The waiter spelled it two ways and a man at an adjoining table spelled it another. The pronunciation would be similar and they both agreed on the Med. A google search for "sarr fish" turned up a Jacques Sarr, chef at a fish restaurant in Seattle, and a Ms Sarr who is in the fish production ministry in Senegal. Even the Schmidt's Seafish seven language fish translation page failed us. In any event, it was a rather firm-fleshed white fish, crisped up on the grill with veg and pot. The pizza was a Landaise, featuring duck breast, mushrooms, and honey on a tomato and cheese base. Seemed weird to me but tasted great. I even resisted putting the hot oil on it as I wished to savor the slightly sweet taste. They gave a 1.3 exchange rate and we ended up quite satisfied for only $78 and had two slices of pizza for lunch the next day. We have been going to Belle Epoque for about 10 years and feel it can't be beat for good food at good prices. It's on the marina and the passersby and waitstaff provide plenty to amuse you.
On Thursday we went to Montmartre for a dinner close to home. We were still rather tired from all the running around and still hadn't had enough sleep. We are most grateful for the resurrection of the Atlantis Casino complex. There are several restaurants in various styles there: Dino's Temptation, serving Nouveau Caribbean, soon come his Dare Steakhouse, David Foini's upscale Italian Gondola, Gille's Casablanca, and another pizza/Italian place. Montmartre is the French entry and is quite authentic from waitstaff through the kitchen. Karen, the owner/manager is English, but is married to Pascal who shows up almost every night after running Sunset Cafe and checking on Auberge Gourmande, his two restaurants in Grand Case. Olivier is the head waiter, possibly the best waiter on the island, and has trained the staff well. We were feeling a bit better and stepped up to a good Burgundy, 97 Beaune Premier Cru Champs Pimont. It's wonderful and now that it is seven years old, even better than last year. It was fantastic with our very flavorful dinners: pigeon with foie gras sauce that included a rather large slice of foie gras and a favorite from last year, a capon leg stuffed with porcini and foie gras. Both dishes included a medley of vegetables, at least a half dozen. Service was impeccable, the wine was great, the food divine. Even the view is getting better as the planting boxes are now full.
On Friday night we felt great and headed for Grand Case, saying hello to Thibault at Bistrot Caraibes and Olivier at Le Cottage as we drove down to California. Alain and ZuZu are from France and the food is from there also, especially the buckwheat crepes made the old fashioned way, so you can ignore the name. We ordered a bottle of Volnay Premier Cru Les Cailleret that was very nice and went well with a first course of foie gras pate with toast points and Alain's homemade mango and onion chutney. The foie gras was light as a feather and melted in my mouth as the crunchy toast points and savory chutney added many more sparkles of flavor and texture. Martha ordered mussels and I had a lotte (monkfish). Both arrived in enormous boats over a foot long and three inches high. A cross-thwart kept the lovely mussel broth of creamy garlic, onions, and a hint of (cayenne?) pepper from swamping the hand cut frites. A similar arrangement kept my lotte in a creamy curry sauce from mixing with my rice in the next compartment. Both dishes were a very tasteful blend of textures and flavors. The mussels ranged in size from peas to lima beans, quite small. It was a bit of work to get them all out of their shells, but was well worth the effort as they were the tenderest mussels I have ever had. This dish ranged in texture from a velvety creamy garlic sauce through the tender mussels to the it of crunch left in the onions. The hint of pepper showed itself as a final taste and the fish dish held its own against a very formidable Volnay. Lotte, in addition to being about the ugliest creature on the planet, is a bit chewy for a white-fleshed fish. This was quite interesting in the curry sauce and again, the red wine and the white fish were compatible given the flavors that Alain brought to the table. It was a very good meal and as they were doing $1 for 1 euro, we paid only $118 (although about 40% was the wonderful wine).
On Monday we went to Bistrot Caraibes. As the first meal at this fine place this season, we both had our usual: smoked salmon appetizer, sea bass, and marmite of red snapper. The smoked salmon is still tender as ever with a deep smoky flavor that is enhanced with a bit of lemon, strong, crisp onions, capers, and toast points. We added a Rully from Joseph Drouhin (40 euros) to the mix and had a range of flavors and textures. The tender sea bass was fresh as could be and was surrounded by three dollops of a very tasty tomato concoction, each sprouting a stalk of asparagus. The marmite is a filet of red snapper in a stew laced with saffron. While no actual mussels were spotted in the broth, we detected their flavor. We had had a light lunch and were craving chocolate. There is no better fix than the molten chocolate cake with coffee and a bit of Armagnac. The bill for the food came to a bit under 80 euros. They had lowered their euro prices a couple years ago and are using the real euro rate. Ever-helpful Thibault and Amaury tried to solve the mysterious Sarr problem. they did not know of the fish, their kitchen had never heard of it, and a book of English/French culinary terms failed also. The mystery remains.