St Maarten/St Martin
19 March 2005 Newsletter

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Weather and Beach report: Saturday started cloudy but turned into a lovely day. There is still a bit of beach in the little cove at Cupecoy, none at the NW end and a lot at Cliffhanger. On Sunday morning it clouded up and rolling whiteouts made it moist, but by 11 AM it was beautiful, and by 3 PM it was ugly again. Monday morning arrived to blue sky with clouds obscuring Saba, but it cleared up and was very warm and a bit muggy. Tuesday was more warm and muggy. The rest of the week was warm and clear, but by Friday the wind had shifted. It was pushing large rollers onto Cupecoy, but there was still some beach left in the little cove.
Dawn Beach Hotel: A new group has taken up the cause of this property and claims they will build a four or five star, 150-room hotel branded as either a Marriot or Westin on this site. It does mean that Scavenger's Beach Bar will be history.
Dutch Carnival: The carnival village opens on 14 April, the grand final parade down Front Street in Philipsburg is on 30 April, and the final jumpup and burning of King Momo is on 2 May this year.  We will be having lunch and watching the parade from the porch at L'Escargot. If you are on the island and want to join, make your reservation early.
Gasoline: I returned a car to Unity Car Rental this week and, as I had forgotten to fill it up, got into a conversation with Michael about the cost of gasoline. Earlier this season I had reported that Dutch gas was 1.29 NAFl per liter and they raised it to 1.36 NAFl ($2.92/gallon at Texacos using their 1.8 NAFl/$) and French gas was 0.7 to 0.74 euro cents per liter. Today that is about $3.74 per gallon. Michael said the white pumps (offbranded gasoline on the French side) are taking the dollar at 1 to 1. That was news to me and, if so, the price is about the same. I haven't tried it yet, but I did check out the offbrand on the Galis Bay bypass and the pump said 60 euro cents per liter ($3.10 per gallon). This is getting harder than Chinese algebra and almost as complicated as choosing a restaurant.
Art at California Restaurant: Zouzou says that for the month of March, and possibly longer, she has a seashell art exhibition in the restaurant containing mirrors, mobiles, jewelry boxes, seashell boards, cards, and more. there are a couple examples on the boutique page of the California website. 
Photo feature: This week's photo feature is in a a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. It has some very large sailing ships passing between our balcony and Saba and a great shot of waves crashing at Cupecoy. There is a sunset at the Horny Toad Guesthouse on St Paddy's Day.
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(s) 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. We have so many prizes that we will be doubling and tripling up for several contests and producing feature photo spreads in conjunction with the contests. Here is the list of future contests and feature photo spreads:
Simpson Bay Feature - 27 March to 24 April 2005:
    Horny Toad Guesthouse - seven low season days for the price of five
    Unity Cars - $100 off a one week car rental
    Tri Sport - Kayak Snorkel Tour for Two
Celine Pub Crawl - 25 April to 5 June 2005 - two tickets on the Lagoon Pub Crawl
Grand Case Feature - 6 June to 17 July 2005:
     Escapade Restaurant- $100 gift certificate for two
    GCBC Snorkel Trips - A guided snorkeling trip for two around Creole Rock and an afternoon on our lounge chairs on Petite Plage
    GCL Car Rental - $100 off a one week car rental
    AIA Massage - Two massages for the price of one

 Cupecoy Feature - 18 July to 24 August 2005:
    Villas in Paradise - $100 gift certificate to Temptation for two

Marigot Feature - 25 August to 30 September 2005:
    Thai Garden - $100 gift certificate for two 
Orient Beach Feature - 1 October to 15 November 2005:
    Chez Pat - $100 toward a day on Galion Beach
    Sol é Luna Apartments - $100 off on a one week stay
Philipsburg Feature - 16 November to 15 December:  
Lucky/Hibiscus Cars - $100 off a one week car rental
    Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a meal for two
DK Gems - $100 gift certificate

Karen and Pascal's Restaurant Feature - 16 December to 6 January 2006 
   Auberge Gourmande - $100 off a meal for two 
   Montmartre Restaurant - $100 off a meal for two 
   Sunset Café - $100 off a meal for two

On 12 Mar the euro was at 1.347 and today it is at 1.333. 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, Alabama, 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 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 are in the features section of SXM-Info.
On Monday we went to L'Escargot for lunch. The Creole cottage is much the same on the outside but the improvements on Front Street make it look even better. The sidewalks, palm trees, and the lack of cars traveling along the street and parking on the street and sidewalks make this a pedestrian paradise during the day. (Note that parking is not allowed on Front Street during the day and traffic is not allowed if there are several cruise ships in port. At night, traffic is allowed and Escargot does have a parking lot behind the restaurant.) We had a grilled snapper special in a tasty red sauce and garlic soup with a half bottle of chardonnay. It was a very fresh snapper with a nice sauce and garlic soup with snap. The inside is as pretty as ever in an eclectic sort of way.
On Monday night we went to La Gondola with two other couples. The facilities are certainly better than David's previous location in sandy Ground and he keeps making them better. An awning has been added on the patio and several tables are available for dining on pleasant evenings - and we have had several recently! We were inside, next to the patio in the smart dining room. We started with Pinot Grigio as David described his specials: a lamb ravioli, crusted tuna with a papaya sauce, and osso buco. I didn't have to look at the menu and as David recommended a Chianti Classico, I passed on the wine list also. It appears my tablemates felt the same way. We had three orders of the tuna, two osso bucos, and a lone holdout of salmon. For an ap, Martha and I split the very tasty lamb ravioli and the others had Caesar salads. The tuna was of the highest quality, nicely crusted and seared, leaving the inside moist and pink. The papaya sauce was an interesting addition. The osso buco came with saffron risotto and the entire package was fabulous. David's wine recommendation was so well received that we had another one before our dessert sampler, which did a good job of showcasing the wonderful desserts. David offered after dinner drinks and we ended up paying about $140 per couple (with tip) for a very fine meal and some great wine. It's certainly not the old Gondola, but it is one of the best Italian restaurants on the island.
We went to Grand Case for Harmony Night on Tuesday. There were four bands along the street and many more vendors than last year. Some things in the Caribbean never change, so don't expect it to start promptly. We heard about two songs before our 8 PM reservations for a deuce on the water at Rainbow Cafe. Sol e Luna may regularly win the most romantic award from the Daily Herald (with good reason), but these deuces on the water are on a separate level below the main dining room. They can't fill up with large, noisy parties - it's just you and the waves washing up on the beach - pretty romantic in my book. After dinner you can remain there or go to the upstairs deck for a great view of all of Grand Case Bay in the moonlight (full moons around 25 March, 23 April, 21 May). Nori remembered the 2002 Crozes Hermitage Columbier - hearty and robust, ready for the big flavors coming from the kitchen - and brought it over. We ordered the baked goat cheese special with spinach and endive and bacon. Rainbow is doing 1 euro equals 1 dollar for cash and only 1.1 to 1 for credit cards, so don't be surprised to find bacon rather than lardons. Similarly, Dino's recently roasted chevre at Temptation came from Vermont, which is still denominated in US dollars, but wishing to secede. The goat cheese in this case was full-flavored with a wonderful crunch from the roasting, a creamy center, great greens, and crunchy bacon, just add a full-flavored red wine. Our dinners were the old standby crispy duck with West Indian vegetables and a banana rum sauce and braised veal grenadins with red rose potatoes and mushrooms in a morel mushroom sauce with a sweet potato puree. Martha thinks the duck is better than ever and the veal tenderloin bits were fantastic - tender and tasty with a great sauce surrounding interesting veg. We lingered over rum and watched the waves. By virtue of the 1 to 1 pricing, our bill was only $123, a bit of a bargain for food of this quality in this setting. 
On Friday night we were at the other end of Grand Case for another dinner on the water. As the wind had shifted, there was very little breeze coming in from the NW. All the curtains were open at Sunset Café and we dined at the far end of the "room", on the open-air deck with the waves crashing ten feet below us. It was an absolutely lovely evening, We ordered a bottle of Bouchard's 1999 Chassagne-Montrachet and settled in to enjoy the view of the boats rocking in the bay with Anguilla in the distance. The shoreline is lit, but Creole Rock is only noticeable in that it blacks out a bit of Anguilla's string of lights. Our duck nems (egg rolls) arrived in a very crispy crust with shreds of tasty duck inside on a bed of greens with a dipping sauce. Martha's shrimp with two sauces had two rows of four good-sized shrimp on either side of the veg that included tasty chopped leeks, a very nice gratin of potatoes, and julienned zukes and carrots. The sauces were a creamy lobster-based sauce and a sharper sauce with a hint of vinaigrette. My lamb in puff pastry contained two bits of lamb filet in a nice puff pastry with a bordelaise sauce backed up with the same veg. the portions were more than ample for us. We switched to coffee and banana-flavored rum as we listened to the waves crash. On a warm and calm evening, this and Rainbow have to be two of the best places to dine on the island. There are a lot of fine places for food, but at these two, you get the sea at your feet, Grand Case Bay in front of you, and Anguilla in the distance, AND you are pretty much guaranteed a great table, at least if you book for two and ask.

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 Guesthouse  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 19 Mar 2005