St Maarten/St Martin
15 January 2005 Newsletter

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Newsletter report: My laptop went dark a bit over a week ago and the 8 Jan newsletter is on it. Also, the latest updates to the mailing list are there. Apologies to those who should have received newsletters but didn't and bigger apologies to those who got them and no longer wished to receive them.
Weather and Beach report: Sunday had lots of rain showers and clouds, Monday not as many and humid, Tuesday fairly sunny but still breezy. Wednesday was pretty nice as was Thursday until the heavens opened at about 5PM producing one of the most intense rainstorms we have seen on the island. Luckily, it only lasted about half an hour, so flooding wasn't bad. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were clear for the most part, and not terribly warm, and still a bit blustery.
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. We start with a champagne breakfast as we exit the lagoon on the 9:00 AM opening. Chicken and ribs will be available for lunch. We return late in the afternoon after a great day on the water among the boats. 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. As his email is frequently lost in cyberspace, I have included my address there, and I see him frequently. Currently there are 10 confirmed signups and four maybes for a trip that is being capped at 20 participants.
Photo feature: This week's photo feature has some photos from The Ironhorse Saloon in Simpson Bay and Philipsburg. There was a poker run that started at Ironhorse. If you are not familiar, bikers meet someplace pay an entrance fee, have a few brews, and get a few playing cards. They then ride off to another bar, get a few brews and another playing card or two. They repeat this a few times, seeing various sights, and usually return to the starting point to see who has the best poker hand. The winner gets a percentage of the entrance fees and the rest go to a chartable organization, in this case Tsunami Relief. When they returned to the bar Ronald and the Bandits were playing with Pedrin Pacheco's Orchestra. The link only goes to subscribers.
Driving: On 12 Jan there were nine cruise ships in Pburg disgorging 27,000 passengers. Remind me to stay in the condo all day! The merchants, as usual, complained that the tourists just milled about and didn't spend enough money and, as usual, the next day Theo Heyliger's press release said that the merchants were extremely happy, the tourists were extremely happy, the restaurateurs were extremely happy, etc. 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. Keep these in mind if you are traveling and remember the Cakehouse cutoff from Pburg to Cole Bay is now paved.
Drinking and Driving: A word on drinking and driving. There are no laws concerning driving under the influence on the Dutch side, at least according to the Daily Herald. I certainly have not read the entire civil code in the original Dutch, so I rely on their report in this week's newspaper. As for the other side, it's France and we were actually stopped by the gendarmes in a roadblock in Nettle Bay a few weeks ago. They were waving Dutch side cars right on through, but our rental car had French plates and they were looking for people driving without plates, insurance, or licenses, in addition to drunks. When we wisely spoke English and said we were tourists in a rental car, we were sent on our way. Nonetheless, be careful. The roads are dark, not well-maintained, and you may need all your faculties to avoid those who have lost all their faculties.
The contest for the $100 gift certificate at Rainbow Cafe was won by Donna Lott. The entries for the Chez Pat/Tropical Wave contest that ran from 16 December to 6 January are trapped in the computer that Dell is repairing. The hard drive is fine, so I believe that we will someday, probably manana, sort it out. Marci's Mega Gym is sponsoring a contest from 7 January to 27 January 2005, giving away a week of gym usage for two 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.
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:
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

The Thursday tasting at Vinissimo included a 2003 Tokay Gris Vin d'Alsace from Boesch (11.50 euros), a good crisp wine; a 2002 Marsannay Bruno Clair (19 euros), a lovely full chardonnay; and the 1998 Montus Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh-sec made from Corbu and Arrufiac grapes in the SW of France (13 euros), a very aromatic white. The reds started with a 2003 L'Alycastre Cotes du Porquerolles. Sylvain had ordered rose, received bottles labeled "white wine", and opened one to find this robust red. Bruno Clair's 2002 Aloxe-Corton was quite good with hints of cherry in the finish, but I still say it is young.(27 euros). We took home three bottles of the 2001 Crozes-Hermitage from Louis Belle (14.80 euros). It's made largely from syrah grapes in the warm Rhone valley, similar to zinfandel, and similarly stands up to spicy meals, such as the spicy pork with rice noodles that Martha made when we got home. The website has a coupon good for 10% off and they deliver on case orders.

We got some ham from the Magasin du Pont (US Import) in Sandy Ground on sale at 6.90 euros. That's even cheaper than the very good baked Virginia ham at Lido. They did want about $5 for a head of lettuce while Lido had Romaine for less than $2.
On 22 Dec the euro was at 1.331, I saw it as high as 1.363, and today it is at 1.310. I'll take any help I can get. 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, Auberge Gourmande, and La Marine. We noticed Rainbow Cafe, Escapade, and Marlin's Cafe were offering the same. Note that some only offer this rate for cash. 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.
Dining: On 7 Jan we went to Le Mambo for a French dinner with some Creole highlights from Chef Eric. Maryline, Eric's wife, is the front of the house and being from Burgundy, thought that our choice of the 2001 Rodet Chateau de Mercey Mercurey was a good one (42 euros), although there was a pretty good Burgundy on the specials list for considerably less. The amuse bouche was a small bowl carrot and ginger soup, essentially a velote velvety from the carrots and with a bit of snap from the ginger. Continuing in this fashion, we had the shrimp in coconut milk with lemon grass, more Thai than Creole, but they have their similarities. Neither of these overwhelmed the very large Burgundy, although a zinfandel, hard to find over here in France, would be wonderful. The main courses were made for the wine, however: a lovely piece of tuna, pink on the inside with kidney beans, some pickled veg, rice with a topping of a few peppers, fried plantains, with X-rated sauce chien (only 17 euros) and tender sweetbreads and morels in a creamy, garlic sauce with salsify and loads of chervil with a side of potatoes gratin (24 euros). We thought both dinners were wonderful, great combinations of tastes and textures. Maryline warned us about the sauce chien, and we'll pass it along: VERY HOT. Nonetheless, we finished all of it. After dinner, Maryline offered two glasses of her rum punch with passion fruit. If you have never tried this, it's worth the price of admission. Our total meal came to $130 with almost half of that being our rather expensive wine and water. If you can choose from the better values on the lower end of wine list, you can have a very good dinner for under $100. There are photos of all three dishes on the website.
Monday we had a great dinner at Spiga Restaurant. The place is as pretty as ever with new artwork on the walls. We dined inside rather than on the porch as the weather has been hideous, cool and blustery. Lara Bergamasco runs the front of the house with able assistance from Laurent. Lara is Livio Bergamasco's daughter and Livio is the original Livio of Da Livio's on Front Street in Philipsburg. She is married to Ciro Russo who spends his evenings in the kitchen. Lara pointed out some wines from Alois Legder from northern Italy, near Venice, that included a 2001 Pinot Nero (Noir, in French). It was rather nice at 32 euros, smooth and tasty but not so large as to endanger delicate shrimp, scallop and prosciutto appetizer that Ciro created. It was lovely to look at, two shrimps surrounding a scallop bound up in a tasty, salty slice of prosciutto. There were two of these creations and a "bowl" of salad formed by two extremely this slices of cucumber surrounding some very tasty salad greens with a sun-dried surprise in the bottom (tomatoes). Ciro's sashimi-grade tuna had a pepper crust and a pink center with ratatouille. The lamb chops arrived medium rare standing guard over a bed of arugula mashed potatoes topped with ratatouille. They were surrounded by a balsamic reduction sauce and a forest of thyme. We finished with decaf coffees and a lovely Grappa di Moscato. Some grappa can be a bit harsh, but the collection that Lara and Ciro have assembled is wonderful. Our dinner came to $125 based on a 1.2 to 1 rate for the dollar, considerably better than the real rate. Martha notes that although I skipped over the vegetables, calling them ratatouille, the eggplant in the mix was perfectly cooked, making it delicious.
Tuesday night we went to La Vie en Rose on the waterfront in Marigot. It is one of the oldest restaurants on the island and given the recent revamp of the Marigot waterfront with new market buildings, a new marina, and the West Indies Mall, it is still in the center of everything. Be warned that it is one of the most expensive restaurants on the island, but the high quality ingredients and the detailed preparation coupled with a beautiful restaurant, nice view, and superb service, justifies the price. During the day, they serve breakfast and lunch in a lovely sidewalk cafe under rose umbrellas. At night the action moves up to the second floor and on warm night with soft breezes, the view of the revamped downtown and the boats in the marina can't be beat. The table was set with Villeroy and Foch china, lovely napery, and heavy hotel-plate silver. The wine list and the dinner menu arrived and contained some fantastic items. We started with a bottle of the 2002 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage at 30 euros. It is a wonderful wine, not as powerful as its Rhone neighbor, Hermitage, but possibly better suited to enjoying with food. The breads were delivered and the attention to dining details started to show. There was a crispy mini-baguette and a slice of the wonderful walnut bread from the nearby Sucrierie. Our appetizer choice was Le Croustillant d'Escargots a Barigoule d'Artichauts, Sauce Paysanne (14 euros), escargot with artichoke and bacon wrapped in a phyllo dough beggar's purse floating in a creamy sauce loaded with more bacon. Our dinners were Le Magret de Canard et sa Sauce Foie Gras (28 euros) and Le Carre d'Agneau et son Filet en Crout aux Pleurottes et Truffes (30 euros), Roasted Rack & Filet of Lamb served with a Mushroom & Truffle Sauce. Note the duck breast paired with foie gras, but not mentioned were the mound of mushrooms supporting the tender tent of sliced duck breast. Also note the lamb dish includes not only chops, but a bit of the loin in a pastry crust surrounded by oyster mushrooms in a truffle sauce. Desserts were tempting, but not a possibility, so we ended the night with espressos and a snifter of Armagnac. Altogether, we spent about $150 for a delightful evening.

On Wednesday evening we went back to Montmartre Restaurant. We believe that Montmartre is getting better and better. The landscaping and awning outside allowed the addition of outdoor tables (although the weather does not). Nonetheless, the view from inside is considerably improved. the menu has been upgraded over the summer and many of the comments from La Vie en Rose apply to our meal at Montmartre. Our appetizer was a scallop and tuna tartare, two expensive ingredients, on a brioche. The brioche had a layer of thin-sliced scallops atop it, followed by small pieces of tuna tartare with onions and herbs, followed by another layer of scallops, drizzled with olive oil, and sprouting a sprig of rosemary with tasty greens on the side. It was a wonderful dish with two different tastes and textures of seafood laced with the taste and tang of onions with a bonus bit of pastry. It takes time to do this and it can't be done days before because the brioche will be mush. Our dinners were the braised pigeon with foie gras and fresh figs and a capon breast with morels and foie gras. Both dinners had a combination of several expensive ingredients and both included an astounding array of veg: potatoes gratin with a hint of black pepper, broccoli, mashed potatoes, roasted garlic. broiled tomato with a seasoned topping, a dollop of squash, and ratatouille. There are photos of all three dishes on the website and they tasted as good as they looked. We apologize to dessert lovers as we ended the evening with espressos and snifters of Armagnac again.
Friday evening was a considerably cheaper expedition to Paris Bistro in the Maho Complex. The fresh fish sits in a cart of ice on display at the entrance to the restaurant, so you know that the seafood cannot be any fresher. There is a photo of the cart on the menu page and photos of the tempura shrimp appetizer, the freshwater shrimp dinner, and the ocean platter that we had. It was all good fresh seafood in tasty preparations coming in at about $120.

Saturday evening was our anniversary, celebrated at Mario's Bistro. We started with flutes of champagne to accompany the lobster tempura on a bed of wakame seaweed and haricot verts. It was a very pretty dish and the delicate lobster in a crunchy tempura was a most interesting contrast. Our dinners were the tuna on a bed of feather-light gnocchi in a light tomato sauce and a filet mignon topped with camembert on a bed of mashed potatoes flavored with truffle oil. Martha had the tuna quite rare, such that the inside was still quite red and cool. Martyne noticed and asked if this was OK. There are several things to note about this. First, Martha had asked for rare tuna and Mario had, indeed, prepared rare tuna. Whether one likes rare tuna or not is a matter of taste, but communication from patron to server to chef is absolutely necessary in order to get what you want. Martyne allowed that she liked tuna a bit past rare and wanted to make sure that Martha was perfectly satisfied. That's far better than the perfunctory, "Everything OK?" flyby that gets demonstrated at some restaurants. My filet was also done to my complete satisfaction and fabulous, from the crunchy topping on the camembert on top of an extremely tender filet on its bed of mashed potatoes. Our 1999 Pommard from Drouhin was not cheap at 58 euros, but it was great, smooth, large, and long-lasting. Again, we finished with espresso and Armagnac, but this time we included a major portion of gossip with Didier. The bill was high, but if a reasonable bottle of wine were substituted and the champagne were dropped, our dinner could easily have cost about $120 given the 1.25 to 1 rate that they were using.

Look on the SXM-Restaurants website for a list of all restaurants that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper.
L'Esperance Hotel in Philipsburg is bargain at $80 per night for a 1BR suite with a kitchen. It's not on the water, but they have a pool.
Turquoise Shell Residence in Simpson Bay is bargain at $100 per night for a 1BR suite with a kitchen, all taxes and service included. It's across the street from the water and they have a pool. Make a reservation and get a $50 coupon to Ama Jewelers and a $25 coupon to Hot Tomatoes.
The Banana Cabana, a one bedroom studio on the lagoon in Cupecoy, is only $695 for the week all taxes and service included.
California has two apartments for rent that are right on the water in Grand Case. The one bedroom, sleeps four, is $750 and the two bedroom, sleeps six, maybe more, is $1100 for the week.
Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel says that she has negotiated a great deal at Alamanda and has can't beat rates at Le Petit, L'Esplanade, Maho. and La Plantation.
Erich S. Kranz