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St Maarten/St Martin
12 March 2005 Newsletter

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Sunset
ISLAND NEWS
 
Weather and Beach report: As I said last week, great weather, few clouds, a bit hazy, lots of sun, but: A bit too calm for the regatta! One class had a first place, a second place, and about 20 tied for third at DNF (did not finish). They couldn't get to the finish line before the committee boat headed for the Heineken. The rest of the week was similar. We found out that the volcano on Montserrat was spewing ash and caused the extremely hazy conditions on Saturday. We went to Orient several days because of the calm weather. The beach there is larger than I have seen in years. Cupecoy is still reduced to a small bit in the little cove, essentially nothing at the NW end, and a considerable amount beneath Cliffhanger. On Friday morning it clouded up and rained a bit.
 
Dutch Carnival: The carnival village opens on 14 April and the grand final parade is on 2 May this year.
 
Regatta: There were 261 boats, a new record, but light winds, so no speed records were set! On Friday we watched from the beach at the Horny Toad Guesthouse as the round the island race started at 9 AM. At about 11, after all the boats had started, we went home and caught some of the action from the balconies of our condo at Sapphire. The bots circled the island and finished in Pburg for a big party on the boardwalk.

On Saturday, we arrived at Turtle Pier at 8:30 and boarded Celine for a day out on the water with the racers. Breakfast was waiting for us and we exited the lagoon on the 9 AM bridge opening. This placed us in Simpson Bay Lagoon as the race to Marigot was starting from two locations in the area. There were about 20 boats in each of a dozen classes, so they started over a period of about two hours. Spinnakers were flying at this time as they were heading downwind to round Beacon Hill and run up the west side of the island. We followed them up the coast and around Bay Rouge, anchoring in Nettle Bay at 12:30 with a good view of the finish line. Seafood paella, ribs, chicken, and lots of salads were available for lunch as the boats came in after the morning races. At 1 PM. they went out again for a race to Creole rock/Tintamarre and back to Nettle Bay.We stayed put to watch the start, and by the time they all had started, some of the early boats were returning. We spent the afternoon watching the finish line, swimming, drinking, and soaking up the sun on one of the best days of the year. We headed in on the 5:30 French bridge opening and got back to Turtle Pier as the sun was setting. The racers stayed in Marigot for another big party.
 
On Sunday the boats started from Nettle Bay and rounded Creole Rock/Tintamarre and headed back to Simpson Bay.  We went to Restaurant du Soleil in Grand Case to watch the them making their turns (some classes did go all the way out to Tintamarre). as we had a wonderful lunch on another glorious, but calm, day.
 
I have produced a new regatta feature with photos from every day of the race, but the majority and most interesting, are from the spectacular day on the Celine.
 
 
Photo feature: This week's secret feature has been cancelled because of all the work on the regatta feature (plus a hard drive failure). 
 
 
CONTEST
 
Hot Tomatoes is sponsoring the contest that runs from 5 March to 26 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:
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 
Chez Pat - 1 October to 15 November 2005 - $100 toward a day on Galion Beach
Lucky/Hibiscus Cars - 16 November to 15 December - $100 off a one week car rental
 
 
WINE TASTING
 
We went to the Thursday wine tasting at Vinissimo and met a chef from a megayacht who had brought over some brioche and bread that he had made that morning. The brioche, being a bit sweet, was not meant for the cheese and pate that Sylvain had laid out for the tasting, but the dark whole wheat bread was great with the creamy foie gras pate, the goat cheese, and the pave d'affinois cheese from the Loire valley. We started with a gewurztraminer, the spicy traminer grape from Alsace, an excellent aperitif wine. We then tried a sauvignon blanc from Bordeaux and the chef pulled out a Condrieu from the Rhone valley. It's made from the Viognier grape and, like gewurz, is a bit of an acquired taste. I told Sylvain that we really had to get home as we needed to buy dinner, prepare it, and get some sleep before our guest's 6 AM departure. Our guest, Mr Bowen, bought four bottles of Bowen cognac. Unfortunately he is no relation and must buy the cognac. We asked for some burgundy to take home for dinner and Sylvain insisted that we try some before buying. The 1999 Savigny Les Beaune from Simon Bize "Aux Grandes Liarts" was lovely, as was his "Les Marconnets, so we took some of each. However, before we could go, the chef pulled some chocolate truffles out of his bag and Sylvain offered up some sweet Madiran as an accompaniment. If you are here on Thursday and like wine, this is the place to be.
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RESTAURANTS
 
On 5 Mar the euro was at 1.324 and today it is at 1.347. 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 La France in the Marigot marina, 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.
 
TTOL party: The Wharf Restaurant will be having a TTOL party from 6 to 8 on 28 March. Bernard will be supplying appetizers, happy hour prices will be in effect, and look for a discount on dinners afterward.
 
Dining: We caught the beginning of the Sunday regatta while having a wonderful and leisurely lunch at Restaurant du Soleil. We had guests and they were thrilled with the lovely view and beautiful decor. The service and food were pretty good also. All meals start with fresh potato chips made in the kitchen. We enjoyed a cold bottle of rose as we looked over the menu. Our aps were a Napoleon of tomato and goat cheese with basil and Japanese-flavored sauce ($10) and snails in a phyllo crust with spinach, mixed greens, and herbs ($14). Both dishes have varying textures, the crunch of a fresh tomato contrasting with a silky smooth goat cheese or the crackle of crispy phyllo dough surrounding tender snails; and both dishes have many tastes. A bottle of white burgundy arrived for the appetizers. The main courses were a veal filet mignon with a creamy mushroom sauce, croutons and roasted apples with Calvados brandy (fantastic), a red snapper fillet with cajun spices, a roasted rack of lamb with rosemary with vegetables Provencal, and the grilled ahi tuna, with vanilla flavor, mashed potatoes and two sauces (soy and Creole). No complaints were heard and there were no doggie bags for dinner. A couple glasses of red wine were added for the meat eaters. Cedric urged us to try the profiteroles for dessert - good pate a choux, very good ice cream, and luscious chocolate sauce - this from someone who shuns desserts. Our bill came to a bit less than $100 per couple, aided by the 1 to 1 exchange rate for cash.
 
We went to Bamboo Bernies for sunset on Sunday, where we bumped into Patty, the sungoddess, from TTOL.. Nothing like free drinks: mudslides, margaritas, or beer. Starting at 5:00 PM they are free for a half hour, 50 cents for the next half hour, a buck for the next hour, and two bucks for the next hour. Pretty cheap sundowners with a great sunset. Pictures soon come, mon!
 
Our guests choose Le Cottage Restaurant for Monday night's dinner (the second set of guests to do so, and with good reason, IMHO). Stephane poured a gewurz to get us started and we ordered a creamy lobster bisque, a special scallop appetizer, and foie gras terrine. The foie gras consisted of two slices from different approaches to terrine making, but I cannot choose a favorite - it's all good. Our dinners were roasted monkfish with chorizo, a Portuguese approach that was very tasty, a rack of lamb, the duck platter consisting of liver, leg, gizzard, and breast with braised endive, and a special crusted scallop dinner. I've seen a lot of blather about the best duck on TTOL and there is a bit to know about cooking duck. As Frank Perdue keeps his chickens in a cage, they have tender breasts AND legs, tender, tending toward mush. Ducks, however, generally are allowed to swim and wander about making the legs tougher. The legs, therefore, benefit from longer cooking times via roasting, etc. The breast is still fairly tender as the ducks rarely fly and it requires fast cooking with special attention to the layer of fat on the breast. This is not a secret and I doubt that there is a chef on the island who doesn't know this. Another variable is the quality of the duck breast, but the French take care of that even more so than the USDA (see below). I think this is a great dish because I like gizzard and liver and appreciate the bitter taste of braised endive. I also like the various textures in the four bits of duck. This is an entirely gratuitous aside, as I had the crusted scallops and enjoyed the crunch Stephane brought a bottle red which we guessed as a Rhone but were surprised to find that it came from Les Baux, one of the prettiest and most amazing towns in Provence. Les Baux was also one of the first places where a clayey mineral containing aluminum was found. Hence, we call the ore bauxite. The wine was much better. Coffees and Armagnac ended a wonderful evening on the front porch. Our bill for the wonderful food and an immense amount of interesting wine was about $300. They don't do 1 for 1, but they do have very good prices. Le Cottage is now closed on Sunday nights.
 
Our guest had worked in La Havre on the NW coast of France for several months around 1970 and the style of food at Bistrot Nu sounded pretty good to him. It is not cutting edge, but is good solid bistrot food. They are located in an alley off the main road to Grand Case and have been consistently busy since  opening in the early 1980s.  Visitors and locals go there for a large menu of traditional French and Creole food at excellent prices, and we had a fine diner there on Tuesday.  We ordered a bottle of chardonnay to accompany our starters:  a big pot of mussels with white wine, cream, and herbs,  a generous platter of tuna carpaccio, and a goat cheese salad.   We followed with four selections from the blackboard menu.  The duck breast came with a ragout of mushrooms and a selection of vegetables.  The stewed conch was tender and full of complex herb and vegetable flavors that only long, gentle cooking can achieve.  Red wine braised rabbit was served with potatoes and carrots.  And the intrepid fish eater at the table ordered stuffed trunkfish, a local reef dweller with a hard outer shell and white flesh, served whole and filled with a crab and vegetable mixture.  We washed it all down with a Cotes du Rhone.
 
On Wednesday our guests wanted to get to Orient beach, so we all had an early lunch at Pirate Beach Bar. We sat at picnic tables under umbrellas, on a deck just above the sand, and watched the parasailers and windsurfers while Glen and his friendly staff took our order.  Soon we were tucking in to grilled mahi, a bargain at $12, cheeseburgers and a Pirate salad, with conch, washed down with plenty of Carib and lime.  It wasn't the first time we thought that the Pirate has some of the best food at moderate prices on Orient.
 
Wednesday night found us back at Temptation at Atlantis Casino. we started with a bottle of Sancerre to go with aps of a walnut crusted Vermont goat cheese salad, a grilled peach salad, and crab cakes. Dino continues to add taste and texture treats to everything and these aps were no exception. Martha had liked the tandoori duck so much that BOTH of our guests ordered it. Martha had the tamarind mahi and I had the salmon crusted with peanut bits floating in a broth flavored with lemongrass and ginger.
 
We planned to dine at home on Thursday, so we had a farewell lunch with our guests at Kakao Beach, on Orient beach.  The weather has been nearly perfect this week, and there is no better place when the sun is strong and the winds light.  We started with a bottle of rose to accompany a plate of calamari, a very nice starter to share.  The pizza lover then ordered the thin crusted supreme, with ham and mushrooms.  We had Kakao's very fine version of salad nicoise, with marinated anchovies.  The hungry ones at the table ordered the mixed grill and the Creole plate.  The mixed grill is a huge selection of chicken breast, beef, and lamb chops , with sauteed potatoes and salad.  The Creole platter contained  generous samples of local specialties: accras make with salt cod, stuffed crab, crab cake, marinated mahi, and a large slice of non-local smoked salmon for good measure--all on a bed of salad with endive.  Quantities of Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone, lightly chilled,  La Foret Chardonnay, and fizzy water were required. 
 
On Friday night we dined outside at a lovely table in the "courtyard" of Montmartre Restaurant, in front of Atlantis Casino.  We began with an order of salmon and scallop tartare, accompanied by a mound of wakame salad and pickled ginger,  and the Raviole de Royan, traditional ravioli with ricotta, porcini mushrooms, and basil in light meat broth.  The tartare is an old favorite, and though usually made with tuna, the salmon was a delicious variation. This was our first taste of the ravioli, and it was a winner:  A more than ample portion of small, homemade ravioli with a smooth, intensely flavored filling and "sauced" with broth, most of which had been absorbed.  The Beaune Champs Pimont 1997 was wonderful with the ravioli, and with the main courses that followed:  the capon leg, boned and stuffed with foie gras and porcini and served with a selection of vegetable purees, the duo of ouassous (fresh water prawns) and salmon on a bed of spinach with olive oil and lemon, and one of the evening's specials, a pork shank braised with lentils.  This was expertly done, the pork tender and the lentils and vegetables firm and full flavored, but it was a heavy dish for a balmy evening.  We knew that when we ordered it, of course, but we always look forward to new dishes from Montmartre's excellent kitchen.  While you are thinking that we could not possibly have eaten all that we ordered, I should say that we were three at the table.  Still no room for dessert.
 
Quality food: Most of the beef that we in America eat is Choice (like Lake Wobegon, all the beef is above average, 53.2 % is Choice and 35.2% is Select). The best quality, from young cattle with good marbling is Prime and it is only 2.9% of the total. Add these up and you will see that the top three (of the eight) grades account for 90% of all beef?? Select actually is leaner and more people may be getting that in today's health conscious culture. Standard and Commercial grade beef frequently is sold as ungraded or as "brand name" meat. Think about that the next time you buy your supermarket's special brand. The three lowest grades USDA Utility, Cutter, and Canner are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and manufactured meat items such as frankfurters. Contemplate that as you have a hamburger or hot dog.
 
BARGAINS
 
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.