St Maarten/St Martin
26 March 2005 Newsletter

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Weather and Beach report: Happy Spring and Vernal Equinox! Saturday started out beautifully. The wind which had backed around died off and Cupecoy was calm and the lagoon was flat. There is still a bit of beach in the little cove at Cupecoy, none at the NW end, and a lot at Cliffhanger. The night was wonderful and Sunday dawned just as pleasant, possibly a bit more breeze, but no whitecaps on the lagoon. By Monday the wind had picked up a bit, but it was still lovely. Tuesday was another damn perfect day in Paradise, hot on the beach, lots of sun, no rain, and a lovely evening for dining outside. Wednesday through Friday were hot and muggy, but on Friday the sun found an opening on the horizon and went down in a green flash. Sunset is now about 6:20 and the moon is full.
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. Here is the full schedule.
Heineken Regatta: I have finally uploaded all the photos from the regatta. They are here. It's worth a visit just for the final sunset shot.
Travel Shortcuts: Roy Marlin noted that people are not using the bypasses or shortcuts. Possibly this was directed at locals, but you might as well know about them. Take a look at this map. There are four roads you should know about. On the way into Pburg from Simpson Bay, you can turn left just after the Tropicana Casino or at the next intersection and work your way over to Marigot or Ram's Cole Bay Supermarket without passing through the mess at the bottom of Cay Hill. This works coming from Marigot back into Simpson Bay - even better because there are right turns rather than left turns across traffic. If you are going to Philipsburg (or on to Orient), you must pass through the mess until they put in the planned roundabout. Further along, you should know that the roundabout at the top of the hill affords an easy access to downtown Philipsburg. If you are returning from downtown, this works in reverse. If you are returning from the back of Philipsburg you can take the Cakehouse bypass, named after the Cakehouse Bakery, which is no longer there. The entrance is across from Ram's and though the road is rather steep, it is paved and will deliver you to Cole Bay. This makes it easy to get to Marigot or even to proceed toward Marigot and take the Cole Bay bypass back to Simpson Bay. Finally, lowlands residents heading for Grand Case can avoid most of Marigot by taking the turn toward the water just before the cemetery as one enters Marigot. It heads along the water to Rue de la Republique. At that point you are in the heart of Marigot and, if you want to get to Grand Case, turn left and follow the water to the roundabout at the far end of Galis Bay.
Travel notes: If the previous info doesn't help and you are still fed up with traffic in SXM, consider these hot bits of news from the Daily Herald: Our sister island, Saba, has announced that they will be paving the roads to and from the airport. Our other sister island, Statia, is currently troubled by goats wandering around the airport.
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: a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. There was a sign in Grand Case, some frigate birds, an interesting delivery truck, and a parade.
Special feature: In conjunction with the current contest, we have released a special feature on Simpson Bay. There are a four panoramic shots, one from an airplane, and the other three from Cay Hill. The best is a reproduction of a print of Simpson Bay by local artist Jill Alexander. The good news is that it only costs about $30. The bad news is that you can only get it on the island.
The winner of the Hot Tomatoes contest is Randy Arnoldussen. Congratulations, you just got $100 toward a meal for two at the only place on the island with a wood-fired pizza oven. 
Several businesses in Simpson Bay are sponsoring a contest that runs from 27 March to 24 April 2005, offering prizes worth about $100 each. 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. Put all the contest codes for the contests you want to enter on ONE entry. Do not send multiple entries.
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 get the contest code 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 are the current sponsors. Put all the contest codes for the contests you wish to enter on one entry.
Simpson Bay Feature - 27 March to 24 April 2005:
    Horny Toad Guesthouse - seven low season days for the price of five
    Hideaway Restaurant - $75 off a dinner for two
    Unity Cars - $100 off a one week car rental
    Tri Sport - Kayak Snorkel Tour for two
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:
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
    Cliffhanger Beach Bar - $40 gift certificate for two

Marigot Feature - 25 August to 30 September 2005:
    L'Esperance Car Rental - $100 off a one week car rental
    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
    Nono Car Rental - $50 off on a one week rental
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 1.295. 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 15% discount on dinners afterward.
Dining: On Saturday we went to Hideaway Restaurant at La Vista Resort in the Pelican Keys. It really is hidden as you have to drive through the Pelican Resort and out the other side to find it. It's worth the effort. They have parking and a lovely restaurant overlooking their infinity pool which overlooks Saba. Admittedly, at night, Saba is not the bright lights of Broadway. For that, come on a Saturday (or a couple other nights) and catch the entertainment in the bar. On Saturday, Les Hodge plays keyboard and sings. After things in the restaurant quiet down, Mario, the manager, joins him on vocals. It really is played at a volume that is entertaining. We were dining on conch accras with a homemade tomato and basil (and more) dipping sauce ($10.50) and could actually converse at poolside over our Chalonnaise from southern Burgundy ($23). Dinners were some tasty shrimp in an old rum and pineapple sauce ($19.25) and the tender magret du canard, duck breast with exotic fruits ($21.50). We had a couple coffees and Armagnac. With the 15% service charge (mentioned on the menu) our total bill was a touch under $100. We turned over an extra $10 for the very good service. We were having such a good time listening to the music that we moved to the bar for a few more soda pops or somesuch. It really was a lovely evening in the warm night air. Note that Hideaway is a sponsor of the current contest. It's an inexpensive restaurant and with $75 off for two, it's almost free.
Sunday lunch at Restaurant du Soleil brought lovely views of Grand Case Bay, nice food, and nice conversation with Patricia and Timothy from L'Esperance Car Rental and L'Esperance Hotel. On this lovely afternoon, we ordered a bottle of rose and settled in. We started with a warm goat cheese salads, warm goat cheese and rosemary on crispy toast atop a bed of interesting greens with a light vinaigrette. We choose three specials of beef on skewers topped with mushrooms and a reduction sauce with veg and mashed pot. Pretty good and very good with a red Rully from southern Burgundy, near the home of our waiter Frederic. The fourth diner had the lobster tail and sea scallop fricassee with dirty rice - no problem getting this tasty affair to stand up to a full-flavored Burgundy. I can't think of a better way to ease into a good afternoon flop on the beach than a great lunch overlooking the beach. This is a great place to start.
On Monday night some friends asked us to join them at Montmartre Restaurant. How could we refuse? They are one of the best French restaurants and as they are on the Dutch side, the price is not a matter of debate. Great food, great service, lovely place, not much view, but it is next to Atlantis Casino. We shared some goat cheese salad, onion soup, and the foie gras for aps. The foie was lightly cooked with Monbazillac and I added a glass of sweet Monbazillac rather than the wonderful 97 Beaune Premier Cru Champs Pimont that was waiting. The Burgundy was wonderful with the capon leg stuffed with more foie gras and topped with morels. The French seabass in a salt crust arrived looking like Lot's wife, but after Olivier's ministrations emerged as a pair of moist, boneless filets. The ouassous (large freshwater shrimp farm-raised in Guadeloupe) were menacing looking with their long claws still attached, but quite tasty. The filet mignon with peppercorn sauce was a lovely piece of beef, cooked to perfection, and surrounded by veg including a roasted garlic head. The roasted veal chop was flambéed with cognac, and bathed in a morel mushroom sauce. One of them made an excellent lunch the next day. Coffees arrived with a dessert platter that disappeared in a flash. The dessert platter is an excellent way for a group to sample the pastry chef's abilities (in this case, quite good) without anyone having to admit that they ordered dessert. The bottle of home-made flavored rum was left on the table and we were the last to leave.
Tuesday may have been the nicest day of the year and the evening on the balcony at La Vie en Rose was perfection. A soft breeze stirred the night air as we looked over the waterfront to Anguilla. This restaurant has been here for 25 years and seen lots of changes on this waterfront, but they still have a lovely spot in beautiful location. Fine china, good silver-plate, and excellent service complement an extremely interesting menu. We had the 2002 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage at 30 euros again. It's not overpowering and as we were having a mille-feuille of tuna and eggplant that seemed a good idea. The mille-feuille had large baked parmesan cracker leaning against it and floated on a bed of greens. Our dinners were a veal loin stuffed with a poultry and veg forcemeat and the lobster and boneless rabbit combination in a light honey and vanilla sauce. The veal dish was quite good and sounds fairly normal, but it is a bit of work to prepare as it combines several elements. My dinner sounds stranger, mixing fish and meat and adding honey and vanilla? Francois, the maitre'd, raised an eyebrow and noted that it was a bit sweet as I ordered it. It was and it worked. Our bees in NY produce a delicate honey from our fields that have a hard time producing bee balm, goldenrod, and other wildflowers. This was a more full flavored honey, possibly acacia, but used sparingly with just hints of vanilla to make a lovely light sauce. The chewy lobster and the tender rabbit produced a nice contrast and their delicate flavors were complemented by the honey and vanilla. We had coffees with complimentary plate of small desserts and finished out the evening talking about these dishes and the fact that we would happily have tried any of the other dishes on the rather long menu. Our friends had departed, so we could not order the dessert platter. Our bill was 116 euros, which became about $140 via a 1.2 to 1 rate - not bad given the actual 1.35 rate!
On the way home, we stopped at Mario's Bistro to make reservations. Martha's brother, the Executive Chef at Frank's Restaurant in Pawley's Island, SC, will be arriving next week and this is one stop we wanted to make. We got a table for seven on April Fool's Day and an invite to the corner table on the water for Armagnac. This is another great spot for enjoying the lovely night air. Armagnac and gossip flowed as Didier and Martyne finished their night in the dining room and Mario eventually emerged from the kitchen. Ever mindful of the balloon-toting gendarmes, we finished with glasses of water and headed home through the lowlands. The legal limit on the French side is 0.5 BAC as opposed to 0.08 in the US. Basically it means you can charge up on 2.5 drinks (rather than 4, as in the US) and then have one per hour after that.
Warning: This may bore the pants off all but the most interested foodies: The next night at dinner Martha and I discussed the meal at La Vie en Rose. Martha was a chef at what was arguably the best restaurant in the Saratoga Springs area in the eighties and went on to a career in restaurant consulting after that, so she has some knowledge of this field. I started cooking in a late night diner at the age of 15. It was entirely illegal, but my parents at least knew where I was. Eventually I was the captain of one of the largest dining halls at MIT and did a bit more short order cooking and hung around my first wife's restaurants and bars entirely too much. Specifically, we were discussing a topic brought up on TTOL: is the cost of the best restaurants here justifiable or worth it - not exactly the same question.
Let's start with justifiable. The waterfront location adds some cost. The physical plant is in perfect nick, not cheap in a rough environment at the end of a long supply chain. The deep pink enamel paint on the woodwork is stunning and matches the awnings, etc - somebody, a designer perhaps, thought about this and got paid for his thoughts. Real china costs real money and real heavy silverplate costs a heavy amount of silver. The staff knows service and has been there for some time. You can't keep good staff if they don't make good money. All these expenses come before one even considers the food. The menu has four soups, nine aps, six fish dishes, six meat dishes, and six desserts. A quick comparison with several online menus from around the island shows this to be one of the larger menus and even that is deceiving as many dishes, like my lobster and rabbit, or Martha's veal and poultry forcemeat, contain two main course ingredients. This is not necessarily as expensive as it could be because the lobster from the fish course doubles as the lobster accompanying my rabbit and the offcuts from the poultry on the menu become part of the forcemeat in Martha's dish. It is a complication and complications are where major money comes in as people are required to do the work. Forcemeat doesn't fall off the back of the Sysco truck with the jalepeno poppers and breaded mozzarella sticks. Many of the dishes had a pastry accompaniment. The mille-feuilles did and my veg came with a pastry crust. The lamb dish that I had on our previous visit had chops with the loin in a pastry crust with oyster mushrooms and truffles. My ap had a baked parmesan cracker. The dishes contain many ingredients, many of them expensive, and all have to be assembled. We think these efforts justify the cost, although we don't have much knowledge of local labor costs. We do know that we find it difficult to get food of this quality at this price in the US and this comment extends to almost all restaurants on the island.
The other question, is it worth it, is really up to you. Dino's Craig Spann-designed Temptation  and his new Dare to be Rare steakhouse (opening soon), Citrus Restaurant, Montmartre Restaurant, and Sol e Luna are all beautiful and we like to dine in them, but we also like a view with dinner so the waterfront restaurants appeal to us and we recognize that we pay for that and the beautiful restaurants. Good service is fairly easy to find, but the better restaurants have a lot of staff to handle the busy times. Will plastic plates and cutlery cause the foie gras to taste less luscious, especially if the Monbazillac is in a plastic cup? I don't know and I doubt that you will find out at any restaurant. Does the Laguiole cutlery at Le Cottage Restaurant make the duck platter taste better? Probably not, but as my Cliffhanger tee-shirt says: "You don't need alcohol to have a good time, but why chance it?" Indeed, why chance it? The truth is you don't have to do this all the time. The same TTOL thread mentioned Bistro Nu, Saint Severin, and Marrakech where you can get a great meal in Marigot for under $100. Just as I like contrasting flavors and textures in my food, I appreciate good, honest food prepared well and served efficiently in modest surroundings. Gotta go, you are hereby saved by:
Vinissimo's Wine Tasting: We had a taste of a lovely 99 Chambolle-Musigny from Clerget and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Soleil et Festins from Domaine Saint Benoit. We took home three bottles of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape as it was a big, bold wine capable of standing up to the lamb tenderloins in a spicy curry that we were having for dinner. 
On Friday we had a lunch at Cliffhanger above Cupecoy Beach, one of the few spots that has sand. It was a spectacular afternoon with great views of the beach and on the beach. Talk about a cheeseburger in paradise! We actually had a very tasty mahi sandwich and a hamburger with several Presidentes to while away the time until the green flash descended into the blue water!
JD McKnight, aka ruralcarrier, set us up with a company that puts calls into SXM from the US at less than 20¢ per minute. But wait, there's more. All right, I'll stop the Ron Popiel act, but I have now been using this for about a month and I am extremely happy with the way it works. It's a prepaid plan, so there can't be any BIG surprises.  It starts out as the usual approach wherein you have to call them, enter a pin, then the number you want to dial. By the time you do that, you're too tired to want to talk to anyone. This company adds online features that make it much easier to use. First, you go to their website, sign up for $25 and they give you $26.25, making phone calls even cheaper. You get a pin that consists of your phone number and a few more digits, not impossible to remember, but a bit of a pain. You can continue online and set up your home phone to be recognized by them via caller ID and you don't even have to enter your pin. In addition, you can program your favorite numbers into their speed dial online. I set this up from the island, found the seven digit local access number for my father's area, set his phone as an authorized user, and set my cell phone number here on the island as one of the speed dial numbers. My father can call me for less than 20¢ per minute by dialing a seven digit local number and then entering two digits into the speed dial! I checked and they are doing the accounting well, no surprises. You could do the same by getting a cell phone from Pack Light Rentals. Do it early enough and you can get the cell number reserved. Go online and set this up. Your kids, housesitter, parents, whoever, office, can call you in an emergency or just for a low cost chat. Incoming calls to your cell cost you nothing. Moreover, this service allows you to call from the US all over the world and all over the US, not just SXM. The rate in the US is 3.5¢ per minute, so we'll be using it there also. The shameless commerce part is that if you go to this page, and I refer you, I get $5 credited to my account, if you sign up.

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 $900 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. 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.