St Maarten/St Martin
26 February 2005 Newsletter

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Weather and Beach report: Saturday was lovely, a bit hazy, but very warm and sunny. Sunday was more of the same until 3 PM. Monday morning was still overcast and drizzly. Tuesday and Wednesday were windy, but warm and sunny for the most part. Thursday was very hazy and totally overcast with drizzle at times, but also had some nice sunny breaks as the trade winds pushed the clouds away. Friday was the same. Saturday morning is looking much better.
Orient: We drove into Orient Park to get to Bikini Beach on Sunday. We caught some nice Jazz from Round da Pond and a sample of Elisa's green tea. It is sweetened with fructose (fruit sugar) which is sweeter than sucrose and has fewer calories. Black tea is fermented before being heated and dried. Green tea skips the fermentation process and is the favored tea in much of Asia. Both increase the body's antioxidant level by up to 45% and are said to have antibacterial powers to combat cavities and gum disease. It tastes pretty good and at 120 calories for a half liter, it won't do too much damage to your waistline. We then along the beach to Pirate Beach Bar. It was crowded with parked cars but the "road" along the beach isn't bad. BTW, there was more sand in the middle of Orient (the beach shacks from Cool Corner to Pedro's) than I have seen in years. 
We then drove out the southern end past Club O and turned toward the Butterfly Farm, Bayside Riding, and the defunct animal shelter, to get to Chez Pat. The road is passable, but no treat. We were amazed at how calm it was on Galion Beach and how Windy it was at Orient. Finally, we headed out and went up to the "highway". The part from the turnoff to Club O and the highway is the worst. We made it to Paradise View for a Mango Madness and watched the gray clouds cover the beach. It had been a wonderful morning, but we could see clouds off to the NE and with the wind coming from that direction, we knew it wouldn't last.
Dolphinarium: It looks as if it will get approved. The government was given a petition against the affair with few thousand signatures and as the Daily Herald has a policy of printing almost any letter and press release they receive, there has been at least one letter per day opposing it.
Construction: We have posted a feature on construction on the island. there's lots of photos and lots of info on who is building what, where. If you're interested, have a look.
Dutch Carnival: The carnival village opens on 14 April and the grand final parade is on 2 March this year.
Regatta: 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 18 confirmed signups and four maybes for a trip that is being capped at 20 participants.
Jimmy Cliff is the headliner at Kimsha Beach this year.
Photo feature: This week's feature has a shot of the new welcome signs that the Dutch side is putting up. There's another of Round da Pond playing some nice jazz at Bikini Beach on Sunday afternoons, a shot of St Barts from our table at Chez Pat, some photos from Grand Case Beach Club, and a couple surprises at the end. The link only goes to subscribers.
Escargot Restaurant is sponsoring the contest that runs from 18 February to 4 March 2005, giving $100 toward a dinner for two. Just click their name to go to their website, find the contest code and the link to our new signup form, fill it out, click send, 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:
Hot Tomatoes - 5 March to 26 March 2005 - $100 gift certificate for two
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 - $100 gift certificate for two
Villas in Paradise - 18 July to 24 August 2005 - $100 gift certificate for two
Thai Garden - 25 August to 30 September 2005 - $100 gift certificate for two 
We went to the Thursday wine tasting at Vinissimo and met some very interesting people: a couple from Alabama who had flown their own plane onto the island and a couple from South Africa who had sailed over. They were telling us the woes of passing through customs and immigration with your own vessel. Those of us who arrive on regular aircraft don't know how lucky we are. We got there late and finished the last mouthfuls of a lovely 2002 St Veran "les pommards" Domaine Denogent (20) that rivalled the Chassagne-Montrachet  from Guy Amiot (25) that we had next. St Veran is usually much crisper and does not approach the buttery roundness of a Burgundy from further north. The red wines were a Burgundy from Bruno Clair and a 2002 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Saint Benoit that we liked very much, moreso than the Burgundy - very strange for us. La Moutete rose Cotes de Provence (around 7) is on many wine lists at very good prices. We can now report that it is pretty good. 2001 Chateau Bouscasse Madiran from Alain Brumont, 2001 Fiefs de Lagrange St Julien, and 2003 Chateau Gombaud petit bordeaux were also available for tasting. All prices are in euros and they use a real exchange rate.
On 19 Feb the euro was at 1.307 and today it is at 1.320. 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  Escapade, Bikini Beach, Restaurant du Soleil, California, Auberge Gourmande, and La Marine. We noticed Rainbow Cafe, Balaou, Santal, Sebastiano, 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: It certainly looks as if Bombay Brasserie is no longer with us and it is beginning to look as if Au Bout la Bas's reincarnation as Senses Garden isn't going to work out. There's a new island restaurant a couple doors down from Vinissimo. It's called 'D Caribbean. Looks nice, certainly several steps up from a lolo with table cloths, nice glassware, etc. The February issue of Bon Apetit has a Caribbean Update that features Temptation, Montmartre Restaurant, and the Hidden Forest Cafe were mentioned.
On Sunday we spent a lovely afternoon at Restaurant du Soleil on the water in Grand Case. It was a lovely morning and early afternoon and the sky and water could not have been more beautiful. Check out the photos on the site, but you can see the clouds coming in from the NE. We had a Caesar salad to start and moved on to a lobster bisque in the style of island fish soup and a fillet of grouper with veg and dirty rice. The lobster bisque was rather thick and came croutons, grated gruyere, and a garlicky rouille - quite nice. The grouper was fresh as could be and the dusting of cumin was an added attraction. There was also a reduction sauce of red wine and caramel that was very tasty. It was surprisingly busy, but Cedric's service was superb. Our lunch cost 58 euros, and as they are doing one to one on the exchange, we had a rather inexpensive lunch given the quality and view.
On Monday night we visited an old friend for the first time in a few years: Bistro Nu. When I first saw their sign about a dozen years ago, I thought that it was a naked bistro, possibly like Papagayos nude restaurant at the Orient Resort, or possibly an adult club in the mold of Platinum Room. I read a bit more and found out that it was a restaurant that served good food, cheap, and late into the night, attracting other chefs who had finally taken off their aprons for the evening. Chefs without aprons are not nearly as exciting as people without clothes, but they ought to know something about food. And indeed they did. The menu has three pages of traditional, old-fashioned French bistro cuisine and another page of Creole food. The blackboard has about 25 more aps and main courses every night. The physical plant suffered a bit in Luis and Lenny and has subsequently been redone quite nicely. It's still small, but the roof is now higher and the street has been blocked off allowing them to place additional tables outside. They are on a side street running back toward the water from Rue du Hollande on the back side of Marigot near the stadium. Unless something is going on at the stadium, there is always parking available there. We ordered water and a Cotes du Rhone Villages from Jaboulet. It turns out this villages was Beaumes de Venise, an area noted for its sweet white wines, but they are now making a very good red, especially Jaboulet. Martha had the pig's feet terrine (7 euros) and I had the sweetbreads and scallop salad to start (11 euros). The sweetbreads were crispy, the scallops were tender, the tomatoes were good, and the dressing was delicious. The terrine turned out not to be slices, but the entire terrine, small, but still about two inches by four inches. A couple slices had been removed and placed on a bit of salad, some cornichons were piled nearby, and a small bowl of vinaigrette with chives stood by. Martha really likes this dish and became very hungry while reading the menu - Bistro Nu will do that to us. However, there was so much here that I had to help her on the appetizer course! Our dinners were a veal stew and kidneys. The veal stew came with a bowl of rice and a bowl of tender veal in a cream sauce. Rather plain with white and tan colors and no veg in sight, but very tasty. The kidneys were also large in that it was the entire lobe grilled and salted, with some broccoli, carrots, a sweet potato puree, and a very tender artichoke heart. It's not fine materials and cutting edge sauces, but it is hearty food, lots of it, prepared well, and served inexpensively (a bit over $100 for two aps, two entrees, and our $33 wine plus water).
We had a very fine dinner at Temptation on Tuesday night. We dined outside, as requested, surrounded by water walls, but the music of the piano player was piped in, softly. This is the height of high season, and by 8:30, every seat in the house was taken. Dino Jagtiani, the chef and owner, has always offered the most extensive selection of American wines on the island, and we chose a 2000 Villa Mount Eden Grand Reserve Pinot Noir ($58) from his recently expanded wine list. American pinot noirs are typically weightier than their French counterparts in the same price range, and this was no exception.  (Some would say they just lack finesse, but that's not always true.) It married very well with our main course selections from Dino's menu. While we waited for our first course, our waiter brought a basket of exceptionally good and varied bread to accompany a dish of olive oil and mild tapenade. We started with an order of Mussel Shooters with Wakame, Spicy Tomato, and Coconut Curry ($15), new since our last visit. On Dino's recommendation, we had glasses of Rockwell Sauvignon Blanc with the mussels- very nice, especially with the mussels.  Each tempura mussel is presented on the half shell with layers of flavorful toppings. We liked them very much, and Dino later admitted that he eats a lot of them himself.  Rick chose a duo of venison and lamb loin chops with boursin soft polenta and peppercorn red wine sauce ($35).  The meat was superb, and well supported by the unctuous polenta and the peppery bite of the sauce. Martha was very enthusiastic about the tandoori duck breast with coconut chutney, vegetable biriani, and sweet tamarind sauce ($29). The duck was flavored--and colored--with traditional tandoori spices, roasted a tender pink, topped with the chutney, and presented on the vegetable rice. The sweet-tart tamarind sauce was a lovely contrast to the complex herb and spice flavors of the duck and rice. We finished with excellent coffee, a tiny glass of wonderful Grappa di Dolcetto, and a tour of the new facilities for Rare, Dino's new steakhouse, opening in April (?).
Dino is using the Greg Spann, the same designer he used for Temptation, and the location will be the space across the courtyard previously occupied by Sitar. In fact, one of Sitar's old chefs is responsible for the tandoori duck that we had just eaten. Greg is producing a curvilinear design for Rare, contrasting with Temptation's rectilinear solidity. The dining room is all curved walls and there will be a bit of a peek into the grill area of the kitchen via a circular opening. Carpet, rather than tile, will further soften the image. The menu will be the standard steakhouse menu featuring Certified Angus Prime Beef and all the usual sides and sauces, but with Dino, that is just the start. The mashed potatoes will come truffled, boursined, or wasabied. You can get regular russet hand-cut fries, shoestring fries, or sweet potato fries. So much for standard! While we generally share Anthony Bourdain's disgust for chefs who go "Bam!" (as mentioned in his Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly), we do like food that goes "Bam!". Dino's food goes "BAM!"

Dino, Cecile from Chanteclair, Mario from Mario's Bistro, and probably John Jackson from Saratoga will be representing the island in a Caribbean-wide cooking competition to be held in Miami this fall.
We keep trying to go snorkeling at Creole rock with Sebby from the activites desk  at Grand Case Beach Club, but the weather was not cooperating. We saw intermittent sun and quite a bit of wind as we had a lovely lunch at Sunset Café. When the mussels are running (Wednesday to Saturday, depending on supply) the moules in white wine are fantastic. They are fresh and good sized. The sauce has wine and cream and lots of pepper plus onions that have a bit of crunch left in them. We had a choice of salad or frites. The national dish of Belgium is moules frites, and while my ancestors left Belgium for England in 1066 (not exactly invited guests), I still feel that frites are preferable to salad, especially when they are small, deeply crisped, and loaded with salt. If the food police are reading this, please note that I skipped the mayo. Martha had a shrimp and marinated tuna salad in a phyllo basket. The tuna turned out something like a ceviche. She liked it so much that I only got the smallest taste. Bouchard's non-vintage white burgundy at only 17 euros was perfect for a light lunch on a beautiful deck overlooking Creole Rock, Anguilla, and, if you get the end table or two, Molly Smith Point at the other end of Grand Case Bay!
On Friday night we went to Saint Severin on the back side of Marigot. A cargo plane arrives from France with fresh fish at about 5 PM on Wednesday and fresh seafood appears on all menus on Thursday evening. Several places feature it with special seafood menus for the weekend (check the website). We went with another couple and they started with mussels in white wine, very similar to the ones I had the day before, and then had fresh sole. The kitchen happily split both orders. Martha and I split a tuna tartare that was fresh and quite tasty with its mix of herbs. She then had a squid and pequeno peppers stuffed with crab meat, rice, and tasty spices. I had the other seafood extravaganza, only avalable on Friday: Zarzuela, a major bowl of mixed seafood in a tomato based sauce. It contained shrimp, rockfish, mussels, squid, and a half lobster tail. All good and all more than I should have eaten. We had two bottles of Cotes du Nuit Burgundy and the bill came to $200 for four, largely because of a 1.1 to 1 exchange. On Thursday night it gets very busy and noisy as the locals (both French and Dutch) show up en masse, by Friday things have calmed down a bit but it was still packed at some point.
If you like Creole food, there was an interesting article in the NY Times recently on New Orleans. You may have to register with them, but it is free.
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 $75 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 $700 per week 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. They have just added a villa next door on the beach, three bedrooms, great views, at only $2800 per 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. If you like great food, Le Petit and L'Esplanade are the two bookends on Grand Case's restaurant row. Maho is in the thick of the action in Simpson Bay and if you're part of the birthday suit crowd, La Plantation is a lovely place within walking distance of Orient beach. I've never been in Alamanda, but it's even closer to Orient Beach.

Erich S. Kranz
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SXM-Info newsletter 26 Feb 2005