St Maarten/St Martin
Flying: We had friends drive us to Albany, NY to spend the night at The Desmond Hotel. We then had an early and extremely tasty dinner at the River Street Cafe in Troy, overlooking the Hudson. The next morning, we used the hotel's free shuttle service to take us to the airport. We left a dark, overcast, 30F Albany and flew to a beautiful sunrise in Newark. An hour and a half later, we were on the morning non-stop arriving at the new terminal at a bit early, before 2PM to 85F and clear skies. Many hotels near airports are offering a service similar to the Desmond. Some even let you leave your car there while you are on vacation for a week or so. It seems that the savings in parking fees could cover the cost of the hotel.
SXM's New Airport: We were in row ten on the plane and were the second in line at immigration. Any complaints about a slowdown at immigration were not evident. In a matter of minutes, we were at the start of a fifteen minute wait for luggage. The new terminal is big (think longer walks, no people movers, and our plane didn't rate one of the jetways), air-conditioned, and has multiple baggage carousels. Our flight was early and we bumped into Prince from Prince Rental Car and Mikey from Tropical. Mikey used his cellphone and to call Don from GCL Car Rental who was just crossing over the bridge. We were in our unit by 2:30.
Weather: We arrived on 10 Dec to a beautiful day. Same on 11, but no great sunsets. On the morning of the 12th, Saba was not visible through the rain but it cleared up in the morning only to drop a drenching shower about 3PM, sending everyone from the beach. The Christmas winds were said to be here a bit earlier and everybody is hoping that that was the end of them. On Anguilla, the weather was perfect on the 14th and 15th, with rain showers at night. back in SXM after that it was cloudy and hazy, but warm with only a few sprinkles for a few days. Sunrise today was at 6:41AM and sunset will be at 5:36PM. That's about 11 hours only a few days before the shortest day of the year.
Beaches As we flew in, we confirmed reports that Cupecoy is larger than it has been in years. There is still not much sand at Sapphire, but Ocean Club (next door) has quite a bit of beach, the little cove had some and from the monolith to London's Folly at the NW end there was considerable sand. Mullet had a lot of beach, but during the first week of our stay the rollers were a bit large.
Traffic: We had no problems exiting the airport and no great problems driving by it, but we avoid Saturdays. As reported previously, the parking lot is across the street from the terminal, causing people with baggage to cross traffic. They are taking down the old airport at this time and when that is gone along with the current rather large construction building and construction workers parking lot, some space will be available for increased parking on the terminal side of the street. The plans actually included a road heading along the lagoon, coming out at Mullet. That, of course, would keep through traffic from coming by the airport. At present, the construction crew has their material storage and handling facility in this area.
A couple days after arrival we attempted to go over to Simpson Bay after lunch and took about half an hour for a three mile drive. Traffic was stopped near the end of the runway and remained so for most of the half hour. A couple days after that, we drove over to the vet in Marigot and then to Select Wine Cellar in Cole Bay. Each leg took about an hour. And despite saying we avoid the airport on Saturday, we left before nine, beating the 9AM bridge opening and stocked up at Cost-U-Less and Grand Marché in Pburg. Coming back at about 10:30 was also a breeze???
Groceries: We stopped at the Lido Express on arrival day and found they were out of milk. Usually they are better stocked and with one hour validation in the garage below, they are quite handy. The next day we did a larger shop at the new Gourmet Marché in the old Hot Tomatoes building. There was plenty of parking. It seems to be a regular Grand Marché with the lower budget items removed because the available space is smaller.
A later shopping trip to US Imports in Sandy Ground loaded us up with the usual suspects for cheese (Petit Billy, a wonderful goat cheese, Tomme de Savoie, Reblochon, and Fourme D'Ambert, similar to Roquefort) and some paté en croute and goose rilletes. Unfortunately, Ted, the bakery next door, no longer does retail. They still bake and sell wholesale, notably to US Imports, but we arrived in the afternoon and there were no baguettes to be found. We went to Sucriere on the Marigot waterfront and got a banette.
Cost-U-Less in Pburg still has some of the best prices on the island, but you may have to buy a larger quantity than most tourists want. They have TVs, electronics, beach accoutrements, dry goods, fresh meat including Angus Beef, some fresh veg (not notable), and lots of frozen things. The selection isn't great and the quality does not reach for the stars.
Construction continues. The Orient Express project has filled in quite a bit of the lagoon and has a jetty heading out into deeper water but they have done little more than rearrange the landscape on the lagoon side of the old road since we left. The other side shows a bit more building. Cupecoy Villages has a stout fence surrounding an excellent selection of native weeds and their sales shack. The Arenas sales building looks a bit more inviting, especially now that there are stairs to their second floor sales office. Next to them is something called Cupecoy Cove presumably selling something, I know not where. Shore Pointe has some buildings perched on the seawall. On the other side of Sapphire, Rainbow Beach continues expanding. When we were first offered a condo there, the street side was to be filled with gardens and pools. At present it is a four story concrete shell that blots out the sky as we drive up the rise toward Simpson Bay. The Cliff takes up even more airspace and claims to be opening soon, but you can still get a condo if you have a spare 1.8 mil.
The new section of road at the border in the lowlands is now open! The Queen was here to open the airport and we opened the road. Honest, we just happened to be coming along as they installed the barricade blocking off the old road and there we were. Having recently had to choose between scaring a jogger or becoming a hood ornament on a large construction vehicle making a very w i d e turn on that sharp, steep corner of the old road, the new road is a major improvement.
Sapphire Beach Club: For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to firstname.lastname@example.org via Paypal) and if you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.
Passports: This has been postponed once, and once again, but now they are saying that all travel to the USA will require a passport after 8 Jan 2007. If you are coming next year, think about this now, rather than at the last minute. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page. You can go away for the holidays and get by with a birth certificate and a driver's license, but after that, Get a Passport!
Club Fantastico will be hosting its annual New Years Eve Party on 31 December 2006. Join our host and guests for a great time overlooking beautiful Orient Beach and ring in the New Year 2007! Watch the New Year arrive in the comfort of our pool and Jacuzzi. Price $295 per couple payable in advance by December 15th, or $350 at the door. Hotel Guests will get a $ 95.00 discount. Call Tony at the NJ office at 973-575-1706 or email your reservation request to Rich.
Fireworks Beach Display
A great home-cooked Italian dinner
For those staying elsewhere in St Martin this season, we welcome you to visit the Club and spend the day with us for $125 per couple, enjoy our facilities and make your future reservations to stay with us. This includes use of our property including open bar, beach transport, Pool, Jacuzzi, Satellite TV (NFL Football) and more fun than you can have anywhere else in the Caribbean. For more info on the club, visit our website Hope to see you at Club Fantastico this season!
Win $100 at Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant. Get $50 in casino action and $50 off a dinner for two at Baccara Restaurant, just above the casino floor. Make it a spectacular evening as you will be picked up and returned home in a chauffeured Bentley. You must enter this contest each week and you must use the entry form for this contest to be considered.
Martin Conway, GM at the casino, says that they offer free pick up service by Rolls Royce or Bentley and can send a bus for larger groups. Distance is no problem. With this service, there are no worries about security or drinking and driving. Our motto is Good Gaming, Great Entertainment, and Fine Dining.
Martin also notes some changes at the Princess. Le Baccara has a new chef. We have a new restaurant: the “Rock House”, restaurant and sports bar. Another new area “Just Sushi” and a terrace restaurant to open mid-November, the “Surf & Turf” Island Grill and Bar. The entertainment is great with a special themed evening every weekend. Examples so far, Miss Princess, Caribbean Night, Oriental Night, Mr.Princess, Victor-Victoria. Halloween is coming up as is Indian Night. Friday Night in the Rock House is Karaoke with over 2000 songs in English and French. Monday night is, of course, Football night and we have 7 large screens and a couple of pool tables.
SXM-INFO'S REGULAR CONTEST
Rainbow Café - cancelled as Rainbow is not opening this season
The rules make all other contests look like do-it-yourself brain surgery. Just find the codes, enter them on the form, click send - one form per contest. Good Luck.
Let's go over the rules:
Rule #1 - Visit the website(s) and find the entry code.
Rule #2 - Send in ONE entry using the form with all the contest codes for the contests you wish to enter.
Rule #3 - If the prize-awarding entity goes out of business before you claim your prize, you are unlikely to get your prize.
Rule #4 - Prizes are valid for one year from the award date.
Rule #5 - There is no rule number five.
It's a lot easier than other contests and there is no timeshare presentation. We choose an email randomly from all those received. If that person has entered multiple times, we throw them all out. If not, that person will win all the prizes for which the correct contest code has been entered. If all the contests have not been won by this person, another email will be chosen, etc until all prizes have been won. It isn't mentioned, but there are five slots for contest codes on the entry form. Thus, one entry can win five contests.
Stay tuned. They'll be back after Christmas.
Somebody wins these things, here's some comments from Capt Jerry: "Just returned from SXM and want to report that my wife and I went to Antoine Restaurant and used our prize we won from your newsletter. The owner was very accommodating and gracious. The food and ambiance was great. We both enjoyed our evening and thank you for the prize."
On the night of our arrival we only ventured as far as the Sapphire pool and dined at Opus. Josie from Le Tastevin and Pascal from L'Alabama Restaurant have transformed the physical plant and the menu. They do serve breakfast and quite a bit of the previous lunch items, but the dinner menu has been upgraded significantly. While this restaurant will never rival their restaurants in Grand Case, it does serve very good food in a nice setting at very good prices. It's on the Dutch side and priced in dollars, so there is a 30% savings from the start. We had a very nice salad to start and moved on to the grilled shrimp on pasta in a lobster sauce ($14) and the sesame-encrusted tuna with a mango vinaigrette ($24). The lobster sauce was perfect and the pasta was al dente. The tuna was sashimi-grade and just barely warm. Some fizzy water and a 2002 Burgundy were fine additions. The entire meal came to $110 with a generous tip (not bad especially as half the cost was our water and wine). There is no great view of the vast Caribbean, just a lovely room with a view across the pool, good service, good food, and very good prices.
We had dinner at Mario's Bistro on Tuesday evening. We have liked this restaurant since its opening about a decade ago. Things have changed, but good service and good food have remained. The physical plant has been upgraded, to the point that the tables seem to be the most spacious on the island and the space between them is staggering. The food has changed also. The dishes are more interesting, have more ingredients, and more loft. Through all this Mario has taken great care to put ingredients together that belong together, adding a flavor or texture element that enhances the dish. We had nothing but specials, starting with a mussel and crab soup with a cream base. Mario's has been famous for its steamed mussel appetizer with a tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, only partially because of the quality of the mussels, and that quality was present in this soup. Our wine was the 2002 Nuits San George Domaine des Perdrix. Given a choice, take the 2002 or 2003 Burgundy rather than the 04, although this advice will be increasingly hard to follow as stocks dwindle. (Parker has an excellent vintage chart) My dinner was a pork tenderloin wrapped with pepper bacon topped with a fruit chutney accompanied by wild mushrooms, fried onion threads, and garlic mashed potatoes and Martha had a deconstructed osso bucco with a bit of deep-fried saffron risotto. The bacon was a wonderful taste and texture addition to the pork. It kept the pork moist as the bacon came up crisp and flavorful. The fruit chutney was a welcome addition and wild mushrooms can be added to almost any dish for me. Just in case the garlic mashed potatoes did not have enough garlic, Mario thoughtfully added a half a roasted garlic head. Martha's deconstructed osso buco had all the parts of osso buco spread around the plate with some changed a bit. Osso buco generally comes with risotto, possibly even saffron risotto, generally not deep-fried. It is generally made with veal shank and served on the bone after braising long hours in olive oil, white wine, stock, onions, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, celery, lemon peel, and anchovies. [Martha, the ex-chef, cookbook editor, and wife claims that no anchovies are in osso buco. She did not edit The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst claiming that there is. So we have a rule that goes: a,e,i,o,u and sometimes anchovies] There was no bone here and while there was a large bit of braised shank meat, most of the veal was a tenderloin, all with the braising liquid as a sauce.
Though we only ordered one soup and two main courses, we were defeated in battle. Do not be embarrassed by this. Martyne offered the doggie bag and I still remember the day she showed me the special square bags with the Mario's logo that held the styro containers perfectly. She was very proud of her bag. Thus, this is one place that will not look at you funny if you take a doggie bag back to the condo. Which is great, as our battle resumed the next day at lunch as we finished a wonderful meal and gazed off our balcony at Saba. Mario's is a lovely place and with Rainbow closing, more of the lowlands crowd will be attempting to dine here. We had no trouble with a reservation for the second seating. You might consider dining at 9PM.
The next afternoon we took the ferry to Anguilla ($3 departure tax and $12 for the ferry, each). They leave every half hour or so, Caribbean time, from before tourists should be out of bed until about 7PM. After about half an hour, we were debarking at Blowing Point and waved through immigration and customs. Yes, there is customs here and you shouldn't bring too much into the country as the major share of government income is customs duty. That customs duty affects everything on the island. Expect prices that are 25 to 75% higher than on St Maarten. We hopped into a $20 cab ride to Cap Juluca on the SW end of Anguilla.
The resort spans all of Maundays Bay starting with the restaurant complex and main building on the east, six multiple unit villas, George's Restaurant on the beach with the public pool, six more villas, and then six more villas with private pools at the far western end of the bay. Given the trade winds, the western end of the beach usually has more breeze and surf, but the private pools are conveniently shielded from the wind by the villas. The beach is beautiful, aided by the lovely view of St Maarten rising up in the distance. Our one bedroom villa was almost as large as our one bedroom condo at Sapphire. There are all the usual resort amenities spa, water sports, fitness center, tennis shops, media room, etc. Even the island's only golf course is fairly close. In theory, there is no tipping as they add 10% to the room bill and 15% to the food bills. A nice touch, as long as service remains good, and on our two days we could not have been happier with every employee we met. I'm sure they are trained, but they all made eye contact, said hello, and asked how you were doing. If you had any problem, they could help.
On our first evening we dined at the resort's premier restaurant: Pimm's. It's a lovely place with large tables spaciously arranged, many on the water and via the raked dining area, all have a nice view of the well-lit shore. We started with a soft shell crab tempura on a crabcake, and moved on to a veal chop with navy beans and a fois gras jus and swordfish with yucca puree and a carrot vinaigrette sauce. We had a 2002 Beaune de Chateau Premier Cru. The food is complicated, quite good, and expensive at $225 with the tip. The import duty mounts up. While we dined, we noticed a sting ray patrolling the waters in front of the restaurant.
We went to Kemia, the more casual tapas restaurant on our second evening. A La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2003 opened up nicely in the warm evening. The sting ray returned with a smaller friend. We started with an fish stew featuring octopus and Asian flavors along with warmed tuna slices encrusted with black sesame seeds and a dipping sauce. A Moroccan beef kefta was then enough for us. Our three small plates and wine came to about $125.
Breakfasts were included in the room price and on both days we made the short walk over to George's for the full breakfast although a continental breakfast was available in the room, if desired. The breakfasts were quite nice: eggs benedict, eggs any style, omelets, crabcakes, and much more. As in the other restaurants and throughout the resort, service was quite good, friendly, and informed.
While we were there, the room rate was $625 per day including breakfast and many activities, which we eschewed. The day after we left, it rose to $1100 for the holidays and then dropped to $945 until 12 April. What does one get for this? I'd have to say friendly, attentive service and privacy. You don't have to leave the resort for much of anything and there aren't many people there. The pairs of beach chairs were placed about 25 feet apart along the length of the beach. All three restaurants served good food, although while the prices at Pimm's were staggering, the food at SXM's best restaurants is just as good. The views may be better, the tables may be larger and more widely spaced, and there may be fewer people on Anguilla.
|On the left is the long view of our unit taken from the beach and the next shot was taken from yard, just behind the terrace, looking into the bedroom. The next shot was taken from the beach looking south at Pimm's and Kemia restaurants with St Maarten in the distance. The final shot was taken from the same spot, but looking to the northwest to catch the sun setting at the far end of Maundays Bay.|
But now we come to the crux of the matter. Bruno's new chef brought a long a new menu (it's on the site) that is quite colorful and almost everything starts with "A taste of", for instance:
Le Veau Taste of Veal
Façon blanquette entièrement revisitée 25,00€
pour les épicuriens “new age”
Veal stew served with rice in a lighly white sauce
So there it is, a taste of veal. At $25 euros, about $33, I'd prefer more than a taste, but leave that for mere fanciful mistranslation. The French says "in the style of blanquette de veau, entirely revisited, for new age gourmets". OK, I can translate French and as one of our favorite dishes is blanquette de veau, a veal stew served over rice, that seems to be what the English says, although in using a "lighly white sauce", Bruno has slipped back into Franglais. There is still the "entirely revisited, for new age gourmets" part. I feared crystals added to the stew, but hoped for the best.
All was revealed as Bruno brought out our dinners. I should have taken a picture. Again with the large and strangely-shaped plates. On the left of my plate (which seemed to be two eight inch plates joined together, looking something like a figure eight) were about eight one-inch cubes of veal in a very light brown sauce. In the original, a blanquette was made with cream, veal, onions, and mushrooms and in this case, the veal is not browned first, but braised in the liquid. The word blanquette came from blanc, white, signifying a white sauce to accompany the paleness of the veal. In this case the veal just had the sauce and the rice for the stew was in a glass sundae cup on the right half of the plate. Bruno explained that it wasn't really rice, but rice that had been transformed into a velvety essence of rice, something like chemical engineering meets cooking. This is not so strange as my uncle Peter, an engineer, published a small book on sauces about 40 years ago, before Harold McGee, an MIT-trained chemical engineer wrote On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. The "rice" really was creamy smooth, white, and had the taste of rice. Deeper in the cup were various other flavors, all essentially as liquids. The mushrooms and onions were done tempura style skewered on a stick and leaning from the veal to the top of the "rice". Beneath them were three one inch cubes of French bacon. There's no doubt that all the tastes of "Blanquette de Veau" were there, and a few more. Moreover, there were plenty of textures, more than the original dish and it was a lovely arrangement. I should have taken a picture. Martha's taste of pigeon was similar. Both were wonderful dishes and for them, Stéphane brought out some 2001 St Aubin Premier Cru from Gerard Thomas. St Aubin is at the extreme southern end of Burgundy, known more for white wines than red and 2001 was a very bad year in this area. This is the reason I turn over all wine choices to Stéphane when I dine here. He has tasted this and it goes against all reason. It was a wonderful wine that bad press has made difficult to sell. This also leads to the overall price of the evening being $120 (yes, even with the 30% bump for euros) for an ap, two wonderful dinners, and multiple glasses of wine adding to at least a bottle, but costing much less. This is France and tipping is optional, but the service, esp the wine service, deserved a bit more.
So where are we? The finer restaurants on the island are more experimental than ever this season, although a sampling of two is hardly statistically significant. Stay tuned throughout the season and we'll visit about 50 of them and let you know.
Select Wine Cellar and Stone Restaurant are doing a wine dinner on Monday, 18 Dec for twenty lucky people (including us). Johan Roebert (the son of Capn Neil of Celine and the famous Lagoon Pub Crawl) is the chef. This is another attempt to cook on stone, tried for a year or so at La Marine, which has opened again with the same chef (Gilles) and a new manager and wait staff.
Club Fantastico announces that Chef Antonio will be making his way to SXM repeatedly over the winter. He plans to be here the week New Years Week, and the first weeks of February and March 2007. Fine Italian dining with lots of cool tunes after dinner will be the norm. The Club owners look forward to seeing you all there this season.
Changes: Simpson Bay news: Perroquet became Breezin' which closed almost immediately and now has become Fathoms Tavern. Bananas is now Topper's. Rainbow will not be opening this season. The owner/chef at Piccolo has stopped opening at night as a tapas place at Zee Best in Simpson Bay and is back working with Mario at Mario's Bistro. As noted above La Marine has opened again with the same chef (Gilles) and a new manager and wait staff.
I asked all my restaurant clients if they were doing for Christmas and New Years and got the following:
Auberge Gourmande: for Christmas and New Years we do as always: the regular menu plus specials. We hope to see you soon.
Florence and Christophe
It's much the same at California Restaurant. They are open for Christmas with Christmas specials and the regular menu. Still 1$+1euro for cash or travelers checks.
For New Years, Halsey's Restaurant is doing a four course dinner. They all look good, but your choices for the main course are a lobster stuffed filet mignon with bernaise sauce, black truffle duchess potatoes and grilled baby asparagus or seared Chilean seabass with a raspberry vinaigrette & grilled veal tenderloin with almond oil, dauphine potatoes, with baby vegetables. It's $150 and includes a glass of champagne and dancing starts at 1AM after the fireworks!
Tabba Khady will be closed on both Christmas and New Years Eves, but will be open on Christmas and New Years Days. No special meals, as they are all special.
L'Escargot Restaurant: As usual we have a huge New Years Dinner Cabaret Party....seating 70, and we already have 45, so if anyone is interested they should reserve pronto.......Also there's loads of activity on the boardwalk till the wee hours
and also a fab firework display...so Philipsburg is definitely the place to be.......
Sonya & Joel
Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:
Le Baccara Restaurant
Pirate Beach Bar
Pedro's Beach Bar
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Good Cards (and gifts)
Those who like Club Orient might be interested in Club Fantastico. Check it out. Richard says "At Club Fantastico the Jacuzzi is percolating and the pool is a perfect temperature for skinny dipping late into the evening. The Caribbean Sea is aqua blue and warm as can be. They welcome all of you who are taking in the peace and restful summer with us. Starting September, things will be gearing up, so make your reservations now, and get a special deal. Chef Antonio plans his return in the fall. Dates not yet set. Music and fine cuisine will be the norm."
The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two, so if you want one for Christmas, order soon.
Mike and Fawnette at the Azure Guesthouse on Simpson Bay Beach have lowered some rates recently. It would be a great place to spend a week or a great place to spend an extra night or two in order to get a better (or cheaper) flight. New rates:
L'Esperance Hotel has great rates and is conveniently located. It's quite handy if you just need a night or two at either end of your vacation because of the wretched flight schedules. They have a lovely pool and offer free wireless internet access.
Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel says that she can generally beat any rates you can get from the hotels. Give her a shot.