St Maarten/St Martin
22 January 2005 Newsletter

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Newsletter report: My main laptop is waiting for a part, but we have two spares and are limping along.
Weather and Beach report: Sunday was pretty nice but the high winds are producing fairly large waves, even at Simpson Bay where we watched football at the Horny Toad Guesthouse. We had no rain and our day was considerably better than the conditions at Foxboro! Monday followed along, but a chat with Danny from Cupecoy revealed that it had rained on Cupecoy every day but one since the start of the year. The beach is moving around a bit also. Monday was fabulous and on Tuesday we had a great lunch on the beach at Balaou and talked to Carl at Ti Coin Creole. We were driving a brand new Jeep from Marius at St Louis Car Rental because he wanted us to take a picture of it at some exotic location. We headed for Orient and it started to sprinkle. It had stopped by the time we got there and managed to take a photo of the jeep with Green Cay in the background, but I faked the sky as it was gray and we definitely got rained on as we headed back. The next two days did not excite, but Friday dawned to the blue sky that has long been absent! The day and the sunset (see below) were fabulous.
Trip report: Cheaty and Rose report that they just returned from a two week vacation on 1/14/05 and were at the Summit Resort pool bar for happy hour during last Thursday's downpour and got good and wet. (I always say you don't have to shovel it and it's still 80F). The best deal we had as far as a meal was at Turtle Pier's Wednesday night lobster special. It was our first trip to St Maarten and we loved it. Other places with lobster nights are Greenhouse, Bamboo Bernies, and Indiana ($10 per lb!).
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.
Sapphire Beach Club: The Wyndham/Sapphire site, www.sbcwi.com, appears to be back in operation. My only insight is that SBC has been known to pay its bills a trifle late. Cable TV service was cut off at one point in the early 90's. Things seem to be going well enough. Jeff Berger will be pleased that the toilet paper has changed, although I doubt I will live long enough to see both elevators in building two work simultaneously for an entire month. For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we are opening up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. The first ten weekly listings are free. After that, we will charge $25 per year.
Gasoline: None of the pumps sprout signs showing the price of gas and few stations have large signs touting their prices. This is an indication that there isn't much price competition. The Netherlands Antilles government sets the price, currently 1.36 NAFl per liter. The Texacos take 1.8 NAFl per dollar, making this about 75.5 cents per liter or $2.87 per US gallon. Shell's only give 1.75, raising the price to $2.95 per gallon. On a ten gallon fillup, the difference would be about a buck. The Texaco at the entrance to Concordia at the back side of Marigot says 0.7 euros per liter. At 1.3 $ per euro that is 91 cents per liter or about $3.50 per gallon. The Gess stations and Cadisco may be cheaper, but the Dutch side seems cheaper than any of them at this time, to the tune of $5 per fillup. Watch the exchange at the pump. I have rarely seen them get it right if they don't know me. I generally give them a ten and expect 18 guilders worth of gas (17.5 at the Shell). That math seems pretty easy and you'd think that a guy who does it all day long would eventually figure it out. Maybe he has, and hopes you haven't.
Photo feature: This week's photo feature has a shot of the lighthouse in Marigot. I bet most people don't know where it is and if they have seen it, didn't know what it was. There is also a shot of the very green golf course with Aquamarina going up slowly in the background. The third shot is the breadfruit tree at Balaou. The last is a sunset taken from the Horny Toad Guesthouse on Friday evening. The link only goes to subscribers.
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 started with the white Mouton Cadet at 11 euros. This is a wine made from the young vines at Ch Mouton-Rothschild. I prefer chardonnay, but this is well made and if you like sauvignon blanc, this may be your thing. We had a 2000 Domaine de la Serre merlot from the Cotes de Thongue. this is obviously bad marketing as it sounds like "coats the tongue", not exactly what one wants from a wine. Despite the name, the wine was pretty good. We then got to talking about the visit of  Jean-Jacques Girard from Savigny-les-Beaune (see below) and I remarked that I had a soft spot for Savigny-les-Beaune because I bought that to celebrate the purchase of my first house. It was in 1972 and at the time, one could buy six year old Burgundy in wine stores in Cambridge, MA. I picked up a 66 (the year of the century) and on my first trip to France, I went to find this place. We stayed at the only hotel in town and had wonderful meals and wonderful wines. Sylvain liked the story so much he went rooting around on the shelves and found a 1999 Savigny-les-Beaune from Simon Bize and tasted that against an open bottle of the 2002 from Jean-Jacques Girard. Simon Bize is a well-respected producer but the 1999 needed a bit of time to open up while the 2002 was pretty good immediately.

We got some fresh pork tenderloin from the Grand Marche at the rotary in Philipsburg on sale at 9 guilders per kilo, about $2.25 per pound. That's what we took to the Horny Toad Guesthouse for the potluck dinner during the Patriots/Colts game. After marination and grilling, it went quite well with the apple pancakes and pierogis that some guests supplied. We watched the game and had a halftime dinner under the barbecue pavilion on the beach. Can't beat that.
A shopping expedition to US Import showed that Chaumes has reached 21 euros per kg while St Nectaire and Reblochon are around 13 euros per kg. We like Chaumes very much, but I think this price discrepancy between a factory produced cheese and the artisanal St Nectaire and Reblochon can be attributed to the advertising campaign that Chaumes can afford.
On 15 Jan the euro was at 1.310 and today it is at 1.305. I hadn't noticed. 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, Balaou, 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.
Harmony Nights: They have started again on Tuesday in Grand Case and they have revised the parking, for the better, in my opinion. You can now head into the center of restaurant row, take the right turn onto the side street that runs over toward the canal, take a right at the end of that street, proceed to the small parking lot in front of Pressoir, turn right into that, and head onto the soccer field. You are close enough to walk to the festivities, eliminating the shuttle bus. It also may bring some business to Pressoir, Hibiscus and the rest of the restaurants in that area, who have felt left out.
Wine tasting: On 28 January Jean-Jacques Girard from Savigny-les-Beaune will be showcasing his wines at Ti Provencal in Grand Case. We really liked his 2002 Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru and are looking forward to trying his other wines. This tasting was arranged by Vinissimo and Marina assures me that we will enjoy our diner after the tasting.

Dining: On 17 Jan we went to Halsey's Restaurant in Simpson Bay. They are located next to the bridge across from the Royal Palm where Warung Bali was last year. The physical plant hasn't changed much. It's still a pier made of 2x8's with a tent over the dining room wrapped around a large bar. The chairs are aluminum and plastic (a good idea on a pier) and the rest of the kit follows suit. This has kept the prices fairly low for the food that they are producing. The menu (without prices) is up on the website. There are eight aps in the $8-14 range, three soups, four fish main courses ranging from $19-21, four meat main courses ranging from $16-28, and a handful of desserts. No credit cards are accepted. There was a wine list with 25 entries that covered most of the globe and ranged from $20 to about $80. We ordered a bottle of water and an Italian red (2001 Montalcino at $41). The wine arrived quite cool and closed in but warmed up to be quite nice, fairly large. We started with a signature dish, the Magic Mushroom, a marinated portobello topped with marinara, grilled vegetables, bleu & goat cheeses, and a port wine reduction. It really is a signature dish as Halsey's was inscribed in the port wine reduction on the upper half of the plate. This is not a dish for the faint of heart as the flavors are large and leaping out from all sides. The port wine reduction is designed to intensify its flavor, bleu and goat cheeses are full-flavored, and the marinade was quite evident on the mushroom. Our rather large wine was having a tough time standing up to this, but we had ordered it to go with the Asian tuna and grouper special to follow. Our bread arrived and was accompanied by butter and a strong garlic dip. All dinners included a crisp salad and ours arrived at this time. We had chosen the gorgonzola dressing, which also was quite full-flavored. The Asian tuna is a sushi grade, sesame-encrusted tuna steak that is quick seared and served with a wasabi cream sauce, accompanied by seaweed salad and vegetable maki rolls. The grouper was served on a bed of lightly seasoned angel hair pasta with artichoke bottoms. Also on the platter was a small bowl containing four shrimp in a broth. The tuna was quite good, prepared well, and the wasabi cream sauce was zesty. As usual, we passed on desserts and a bill for $96 arrived (with almost half being water and wine). Prominently stamped on the bill was a service not included logo. When 15% was added back on, our bill was about $110, a bit less than our usual bill in Grand Case, but not much. The requested tip at 15% covers quite a bit of the 30% premium for the euro, especially if some places are offering a favorable rate.

This, of course, will spark the old debate about tipping. My sources, who are French, say that the bill that arrives at your table should have service included. Whether that goes to the service person and whether that service person gets medical, dental, four weeks vacation, severance, and unemployment are questions that I do not ponder as I pay my bill. Customarily, one leaves a pour boire, literally "for a drink" on the table in cash for the server. This is why most credit card bills from the French side arrive at your table with no space for a tip. The total is there, you sign it, leave a pour boire, and go. How much for a pour boire? Before credit cards, it used to be a bit of the change, but now there is no change and with bills easily topping $100, coins seem rather insignificant. I have heard that 5% is reasonable and having said that, I generally leave more.
We had a Tuesday lunch at Balaou, which means Ballyhoo in English, and unless you fish or snorkel, may not mean much more. They are located at the western end of Grand Case and have a parking lot, making life a bit easier. We arrived about 1 PM on a beautiful afternoon and had a table looking out to the eastern end of the bay. They have a fairly large wine list populated with wines from Grand Vins de France at very good prices, especially as they are doing 1 for 1. Crispy bread arrived as we were looking over a menu that had four salads ($8-12), a couple pastas ($9 and $10), three sandwiches ($8-9), four meat dishes ($9-19), and a snapper. The dinner menu was also inexpensive and included five aps and five more fish plates. The bread was not a baguette, but came from Carl and Sons on the Dutch side and had been crisped in the oven - a trick we use at home, even on frozen bread. We started with a bottle of water and a chilled chardonnay ($19, I said the prices were good) on a warm afternoon. Martha had the shrimp salad. It was large with many small shrimp and surimi. I had the grouper special: two large filets on a bed of cooked tomatoes with rice and veg - very good. We whiled away much of the afternoon finishing our wine and water and a couple complimentary shots of excellent St James Rum from Martinique. The bill arrived and came to a mere $56.
Wednesday evening turned blustery and our dinner at Rainbow Café was not filled with gentle breezes and waves softly sighing on the floodlit shore. Luckily, they have clear plastic curtains that can be lowered and even hurricane shutters, if necessary. We started with a bottle of the 2002 Croze-Hermitage Coloumbier that really opened up after a few minutes in the glass. This wine begged for strong flavors and Fleur offered the creme brulee foie gras with a slice of foie gras. It really is a pate of foie gras in a ramekin with a sugar topping heated to caramelization. Seems a bit strange, but sweet Sauternes is a frequent accompaniment to foie gras, so a bit of sugar tasted just fine. Our dinners were the beef tenderloin on garlic mashed potatoes with a bit of ratatouille in a phyllo dough shell and a duck breast in a lime-honey sauce with potatoes dauphinoise (both specials). Both were very good and the presentation seems better than usual, possibly the work of a new sous-chef. See the photos on the website. David, who is from Orchard Park, joined us to commiserate on the fate of the Bills. I grew up about fifteen miles south of there at roughly the same time, and since meeting in 1993, we have consoled one another concerning the ill-fated team. We ended the evening with another gossip-fest with Fleur over Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac and Demerara rum. The sugar cane that grows along the Demerara river in Guyana produces the darkest, richest rum and when it is aged 15 years, it is remarkably smooth. Service from Nori and Michel, was as usual, impeccable.
Thursday night found us at Carl's Ti Coin Creole (Little Creole Corner) on the road to Grand Case Beach Club at the far end of Grand Case. It's a lovely Creole cottage, gaily painted but not tarted up. It was Carl's boyhood home and now is his restaurant turning out some very tasty food at extremely good prices. The place is rather small with about 15 tables, mostly deuces with a few fourtops. The wine list has about ten entries, but Carl claims he has the coldest Beck's on the island. I had one on the day we made our reservations and it was pretty cold. The menu is also small, but there are a few specials, notably lobster. We started with the conch salad and the stuffed crab. The conch was great and there was plenty of it in a large cup with greens and some peppers. The stuffed crab was spiced up with Colombo powder and Martha would only share a small bit with me. I think that means she liked it. Our dinners were the grilled whole red snapper and the lamb. Creole food is supposed to be inexpensive, relying on spices and/or long cooking to make the cheaper available food very tasty, similar to Cajun food. Unfortunately, just as the Cajun craze depleted the stocks of redfish, the local islands are running out of red snapper, such that this was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu! Nonetheless, it was under 19 euros and given Carl's generous rate of 1.2 to 1, not all that expensive. It was very fresh and very tasty. The lamb had a mint sauce that came from the backyard herb garden, not from the Sysco truck. I can't tell you it was the tenderest loin I ever had, because it was not the loin, but a flavorful chop (two, actually) cooked well and flavored with a wonderful sauce. We ended with coffees and flavored rums, mine with passion fruit and Martha's with vanilla. Service was quite good, but Tito, our waiter, sent us over here from his other job at Montmartre Restaurant, where the service is spectacular. Our dinner was a mere $70 plus a pour boire for Tito.
Friday night we had the corner table next to the fountain on the front porch at Auberge Gourmande. There is no water view, but across the street is Tastevin which is a beautifully restored building, and now that the shops next to Tastevin have been fixed up and stay open late, there is plenty to look at from this little corner. We ordered a bottle of water as we entered and it arrived with two breads, one a dark roll, and the other similar to a baguette. We started with the 2001 Mercurey, a light red from the southern reaches of Burgundy. It certainly didn't overpower the delicate froglegs and sweet potato puree in a mustard sauce that was our starter. Martha ordered the tuna off the menu: Cajun-spiced on a bed of crab risotto with spaghetti squash and broccoli. I had a beef tenderloin with a porcini mushroom sauce on top and several slices of grilled risotto with girolles. My veg were a sauteed leek and cauliflower. Both the tuna and the beef were top quality and cooked to our satisfaction. Possibly there is no ruling that leeks and cauliflower go with beef, while spaghetti squash and broccoli go with tuna, but it is an amazing kitchen that has sweet potatoes, two different risottos, spaghetti squash, broccoli, leeks, and cauliflower at the ready. I'm sure that if you wanted any substitution, it would be happily accommodated. It had been the end of a rather hectic week, so we even skipped coffee and asked for the check. We were not allowed to leave without a complimentary after-dinner drink. Great food, great service, an interesting view (the interior is quite nice also), and 1 to 1 for cash!

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

SXM-info newsletter 22 Jan 2005