St Maarten/St Martin
31 December 2004 Newsletter

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Happy New Year: We wish you all the best for the new year. Please drink and drive responsibly. Better yet, drink irresponsibly, have a great time, and don't drive. This is the time of year when the island goes wild in an orgy of great food and great fun. If you haven't been here, you should try it at least once. Almost every restaurant has a fantastic meal and many places have fireworks (Cupecoy, Maho, Philipsburg, and Orient have some of the best).
Weather and Beach report: I was so busy last week getting the apartment opened, internet hooked up, and trying to switch hosting companies for the websites that I didn't go to the beach or even look outside much. It was a fairly rainy week, but frequently in the evening, leaving some fairly good beach days. It's not terribly warm, but humid enough to make the A/C or a good breeze appreciated. As Christmas approached, it got better, but as usual the Christmas winds appeared. Christmas itself was a beautiful day with some rain in the evening. Sunday was more of the same. On Monday, we finally went to the beach for a glorious day and report that there is quite a bit of beach at Cupecoy after the earlier rollers subsided. There was sand at the little cove past Ocean Club and more sand at the far end. Unfortunately, the rollers came back and the only people on Cupecoy were surfers. Still, there are other, more protected beaches. The ones facing southwest were getting hit pretty bad, but Simpson Bay was OK. The weather has been warm enough, hot in the sun, a bit breezy, but little rain.
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: Last week's SXM photo features page was about 12 hours late getting up to the web and I got an irate letter from a crank. To all of you who are still subscribing, I apologize and now the 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 are up. This week's feature has some photos from Philipsburg and Cupecoy a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. .
Marci's MegaGym: Marci and Francis have finished their expansion/renovation. There are now five rooms at about 50 ft by 50 ft. One is for classes - yoga, dance, step aerobics, kick boxing, etc, one is the entry/stairway/juice bar, two large rooms are devoted to weights (with a corner taken out for the locker rooms), and there is a final room full of cycles, steppers, etc.
Driving: On 12 Jan there are plans to have nine cruise ships in Pburg. Remind me to stay in the condo all day! Bridge openings have now switched to the high season schedule Dutch side 9:00/9:30AM, 11:00/11:30AM, and 4:30/5:30PM, one way each time 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. I'm believe all the websites are now in operation so things are working. At this time,  Chez Pat/Tropical Wave is sponsoring the 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 skipped the regular Vinissimo wine tasting as we were extremely busy with websites and holidays and we had stocked up sufficiently. We are enjoying Olivier Leflaive's 2001 Cote de Beaune Villages (about $16). The website has a coupon good for 10% off and they deliver on case orders.
We got some Vacherin from Franche-Comté at Magasin du Pont (US Import) in Sandy Ground. Steve Jenkins calls it "ambrosial, part of the Holy Trinity of cheese" in his Cheese Primer. That may be a bit much, but it is pretty good. We also stopped at the Lido Express in Maho and got some very tasty Virginia Ham. It had a deep smoky flavor and is much cheaper than euro-based prosciutto, Bayonne, or Serrano hams.
On 22 Dec the euro was at 1.331 and today it's at 1.363. It's only a small change, but it's 3 percent. 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 earlier and this week at  Auberge Gourmande and La Marine.  We noticed Escapade and Marlin's Cafe were 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: Shanker Indian restaurant, across from Marci's Mega Gym and Trisport, is gone from Simpson Bay. Sitar also closed becoming Moulin Fou (a French restaurant), leaving the field to Lal's Indian Cuisine, Anand, and Pride of India. Last week's link to Café Juliana was bad. This one should work. Piccolo Cafe has moved from Cul de Sac on the French side to Simpson Bay East. They are in the same location as the new outpost of Zee Best. Zee Best serves breakfast and lunch and Piccolo takes over and serves tapas for dinner.  In Grand Case, Au Bout la Bas has become Senses Garden and Michael's Cafe is now Marlin's Cafe, considerably spiffed up and serving lots of fish. It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is doing 1 for 1. Chez Jojo and Lolotte is now Le Ti Provencal, run by Herve Sageot, one of the former chefs of Chefs du France catering. We bumped into Philippe from Splash/Village Baker/Grand View Cafe at the Ace Hardware store in Pburg. He and Bill got an offer they couldn't refuse on Splash and are putting together a restaurant/lounge to be known as Tabba Khady in Oyster Pond. That explains his presence in the hardware store. I believe that he said Tabba Khady meant Bon Apetite in the language used by the natives where he grew up in Niger.
Dining: I misspelled last week's link to Schmidt's Seafish and its seven language fish translation page. Bernard Rolin of Paris Bistro and The Wharf said the mystery fish is spelled sar and is a fish from the deeper waters of the med. He also said to put a 10% off coupon on the Paris Bistro website, something of a non-sequiter.
On Wednesday (22 Dec) we went to Maeva for an authentic French dinner. It's a small, mom-and-pop place, Bruno is the chef and Brigitte, his wife, waits tables. It's on the main street in Grand Case, long a favorite of locals and visitors for its high quality and excellent prices and is newly redecorated as it opens for the season.  We had a festive meal there ordering from among the ten specials on the chalkboard. The regular menu of French classics, some traditional and some with a Caribbean twist, is always available.  We started with the Trilogy of Foie Gras, a bargain at 14 euros.  Three house-made preparations, one terrine with cepes, one terrine nature, and one ballotine-like slice of chicken  enclosing foie gras and cepes, were accompanied by pickled chanterelles and a pot of sel de Guerande.   We followed with a dish of large shrimp and calamari, perfectly cooked, in a creamy garlic sauce, 15 euros, and a duck magret with a racy topping of minced garlic, fresh herbs, and diced tomato, served with fresh chanterelles, 23 euros, ordered by the person who would have mushrooms in every dish of every meal.  (Astute readers will note that Martha wrote this restaurant review).
Friday night (Christmas Eve dinner) was at Le Cottage. As usual, we turned the wine selection over to Stephane, and Stephane in a festive mood offered a flute of 98 Jacquart Champagne. It was spectacular but it's unclear that it was the best thing with the tasty accras and spicy sauce that is always offered as a lagniappe, so we finished the champagne first. We started dinner with an aumoniere, a beggar's purse of phyllo dough filled with sweetbreads and duck with cabbage and honey. Lots of flavor and textures here. Stephane brought a Lagrave-Martillac from the Pessac-Leognan region of Bordeaux. It was made from sauvignon blanc and semillon, a rather nice, not cloying, white wine. Our dinners were lotte with porcini and mashed potatoes and saddle of hare (lievre, rather than lapin, rabbit). The saddle of hare was stuffed with a mirpoix, tiny diced veg, and accompanied by a timbale of macaroni with hints of foie gras. By the time the lotte reached the table, the porcini had morphed into yellow and black chanterelles. No complaints from the mushroom lover. We harvested these all summer and find them superior to porcini. Not only were there plenty of them with the lotte, but lots more in the mashed potatoes. For the main course Stephane brought the Lagrave-Martillac rouge. Yes, red wine with fish, but this is tasty fish and a rather smooth wine. A couple coffees, a couple balloons of Armagnac, and the chocolate dessert brought our bill up to $120. Le Cottage uses a realistic rate of exchange, but still has reasonable prices.  
Christmas dinner was at The Horny Toad Guesthouse, by invite only, they do not serve dinners except to guests and invited friends on special occasions. However, it doesn't take much for Betty to declare a special occasion. She got some great roast beef at Cost-U-Less for only $10 per pound and various guests brought various other dishes for a fine time under the gazebo on Simpson Bay Beach.
Sunday at Auberge Gourmande we were glad to see Florence back at work, although it is now almost eight months since she left to have her baby. She had photos for us and the last bottle of 98 Pommard-Rugiens from Bouchard, another non-sequiter. They are now serving the 2002 and it is supposed to be a great year, but rather young. The 98 was quite nice, especially as it warmed from the rather cool wine storage room. The beautiful Creole cottage is still lovely with several air-conditioned rooms inside and a lovely porch on the street. We generally opt for the porch and watch the passersby. When Harmony Nights starts up in January, this will be in the center of things, and as close as you can get to the street.  Christophe is still here and started us with the sea scallops grilled in soy and sesame oil, served with a crunchy rice cake. Again, a dish with lots of tastes and textures. I had lotte with shrimp and Martha had sandre (perch pike) with red wine and porcinis. We were having red wine with fish again, but the large flavors surrounding the fish were such that the delicate Burgundy did not overwhelm the fish. Admittedly, these fish dishes were not particularly oily, so the crisp acidity of a white wine was hardly needed needed. As we were already eating too much we just had coffee and Armagnac before heading home. They are taking cash at 1 to 1.
On Monday night we had a casual diner at The Wharf Restaurant, the new restaurant from Bernard Rolin of Paris Bistro. The atmosphere is a combination of Boathouse, Lee's, and Paris Bistro with a bit of the old Brasserie de la Gare via George who used to work there. It's on the main drag through Simpson Bay between Lee's and the Boathouse in a brand new building with great views from the terrace dining room overlooking the megayachts. When we were there, the full moon was just rising over the mountains to the east. There is a band every night, but they are quiet enough that you can actually talk at the tables. They feature fresh fish in an iced down boat at the door and they barbecue that (and meat) right next to the boat. The snapper and the mahi looked fresh as could be and tasted just the same. We started with conch fritters and added a bottle of pinot noir (more red wine with fish) to bring the bill to $80 with 15% added. 
We had a wonderful dinner on a lousy, windy Wednesday night at La Marine. Normally, I would be telling you about soft breezes and great views, but his time it was howling winds and grateful feelings about the plastic securely fastened about the windows! The core staff of Camille and Melanie in the dining room and Gilles in the kitchen has returned for the winter season with a slightly revised menu. Camille has spent his spare time polyurethaning the bin ends from wine crates and putting the menus inside a hinged pair of them. It makes a spectacular presentation and, in our opinion, the menu deserves it. The dining room is pretty, deep blues and whites, with lots of plants in large crocks. The double wide lot puts many tables on the water and the spaciousness and plantings make them all very nice. They still had the Pommard Epenot, Domaine Aleth Leroyer Girardin, on the menu, still priced at 39.50 but the year is now 2002 - young, but a great year. A lagniappe of tomato and onions with cockles out of their shell arrived in a pastry shell before we started with the snails from the menu: Traditional snails in garlic butter with crushed tomato topped with a toasted crouton. There were four ramekins each containing three snails, lots of garlic, butter, tomatoes, and onions topped with a crispy crouton sprouting a sprig of chervil. Our dinners were the shredded duck meat wrapped in a potato crust, served with roasted duck breast in cocoa and black pepper sauce from the menu and a venison loin with a wild mushroom duxelle in a crepinette bathed in a rich madiran wine sauce, accompanied by sliced baby carrots wrapped in a bit of braised endive. Both were well-conceived dishes with many flavors and textures and they were great with the Burgundy. With water and two coffees, our bill came to 105 and for cash, that is $105.
As mentioned earlier, Betty at The Horny Toad Guesthouse will have a party for most anything. We were back on Thursday for BBQ in honor of her granddaughter's sixteenth birthday. The food came from Lido in Cole Bay. It was inexpensive and we have half of it in our refrigerator for lunch. Tonight, New Year's Eve, is yet another excuse for a dinner and party on the beach. Note that Lido in Cole Bay is the restaurant next to the Lido Express grocery store. There is another Lido Express in Maho and that one, in addition to being on the west side of the drawbridge, has a larger selection. It's managed by the former manager of the Food Center in Cole Bay, now Ram's.