St Maarten/St Martin
SXM-Beaches: We spent a bit of Christmas and the next couple days on the beach at Cupecoy. There is still nothing in the little cove but more than enough sand for current crowds at the far end. On Thursday we went over to Orient and were impressed with the amount of sand in front of Pedro's. There were chairs in front of the restaurant for the first time in years. As usual, they had a few chairs in the nude section, allowing one to partake of considerably cheaper drinks than those available from The Perch at Club Orient.
Beach reading: I just finished reading Holidays in Hell by P. J. O'Rourke. It's about 20 years old, but still has a few valid comments. Amazon.com says "No doubt about it: P. J. O'Rourke has a bizarre sense of fun. "What I've ... been," he writes in his introduction to Holidays in Hell "is a Trouble Tourist--going to see insurrections, stupidities, political crises, civil disturbances and other human folly because ... because it's fun." Forget Hawaii or the Poconos--O'Rourke gets his jollies in places like war-torn Lebanon where he is greeted at the border by a gun barrel in his face, or Seoul, just in time for election-day violence. Wherever he goes, however, O'Rourke takes his quirky sense of humor, laser eye for detail, and artful way with words: a Philippine army officer is "powerful-looking in a short, compressed way, like an attack hamster," and the Syrian army is described as having "dozens of silly hats, mostly berets in yellow, orange and shocking pink, but also tiny pillbox chapeaux.... The paratroopers wear shiny gold jumpsuits and crack commando units have skin-tight fatigues in a camouflage pattern of violet, peach, flesh tone and vermilion on a background of vivid purple. This must give excellent protective coloration in, say, a room full of Palm Beach divorcees in Lily Pulitzer dresses.
O'Rourke's flip, sarcastic style isn't for everyone, of course; the concept that anyone could find sightseeing in the Beirut or El Salvador of the 1980s fun might prove offensive to more than a few readers right off the bat. But love him or hate him, P. J. O'Rourke knows how to tell a good story, and if you like your travel writing laced with more than a little cynicism, Holidays in Hell could be just the book you've been looking for."
Traffic: We attempted to go to Pburg on Wednesday from Marci's Mega Gym 2000 on the west side of the bridge between the 11:00AM outbound and 11:30AM inbound bridge openings. The outbound opening was still up at 11:25, so we headed back to Cupecoy. It is imperative to know the bridge openings: 9:00, 9:30, 11:00, 11:30, 4:30, and 5:30.
A new roundabout has been proposed at the traffic light on Pondfill near the police station, university, and new parking lot. This should greatly aid traffic along this section of road and allow people leaving the new parking lot along Pondfill to get out into the traffic without as much disruption.
The French side seems to have done quite a bit of paving over the summer. The road to Cul de Sac is in great shape and the road at the southern end of Orient that splits off to both Galion Beach and Club Orient, while not paved, at least has had the potholes filled with hard-packed dirt. We went to Orient and the road was in good shape all the way to the beach. It appeared that it had been fixed on the road to Galion also. That's good news for Pat, Tracey, and the gang out at Tropical Wave.
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.
Select Wine Cellar supplied a wonderful champagne for Christmas: Champagne Belin Brut Rosé for under $30. For New Year's we are having the Deutz Blanc de Blancs (1998), under $80. On Saturday we tasted a Montaudon champagne at Cave de Marigot on the eastern edge of Marigot just after the roundabout. It is a rounder, fuller, less sharp champagne that is also under $30. The sharper acidity of some champagnes makes them great with seafood, especially oily seafood like smoked salmon. The rounder, fuller champagne works well with breakfast. I'm thinking eggs benedict, not pop tarts, but I have resolved to be less judgmental in the new year. These champagnes are inexpensive (sad to say, but under $30 is the new inexpensive) because they do not sponsor activities wherein some chucklehead sprays champagne over all and sundry after winning some competition. Next year I shall be less judgmental.
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!
Small Island Story: We were trying to get to PDG Restaurant Supply in Cole Bay for a knife sharpener and an omelet pan when we were thwarted by the bridge on Wednesday. An earlier start on Thursday turned the trick and allowed us to bump into Gerald from L'Escapade Restaurant. It's a small island. He was buying napkins as he had to turn people away on Christmas because he ran out of linen!
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!
Winter schedule: Win $100 at Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant contest every week until April 2007. 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
Stay tuned. They'll be back soon.
On Monday night (Christmas) we had smoked salmon and escargot appetizers with Belin Brut Rosé Champagne (under $30) from Select Wine Cellar at Wendy K's condo on the lagoon. We returned home and had Angus beef tenderloin that we had purchased from Merchants Market in Cole Bay. They are a wholesaler, but will sell their standard quantities to anyone with cash. An Angus tenderloin costs about $18 per pound and weighs about seven pounds. Trimming it out removes about a pound and a half, but leaves about five meals for two, not exactly cheap, but outrageously good.
On Tuesday we went over to Grand Case for their Tuesday Night affair and had dinner on the porch at Auberge Gourmande. It was just voted one of the best restaurants in the Caribbean by the readers of Caribbean Travel and Life. Certainly it is a lovely restaurant in a nicely restored Créole cottage, the food is quite good, the wine list is superb, the service is top-notch, and at 1 to 1, the prices are attractive. The only question is: why has this recognition has taken so long? We mentioned the "pamper me promotion" on the website and received a complimentary champagne cocktail to start. After that, we ordered a bottle of the Croze-Hermitage, a cheaper version of some of the worlds great Rhone wines. It was wonderful with the chicken liver appetizer: chicken livers in puff pastry with a mustard sauce on a bed of mixed greens. The dish has several textures ranging from the creamy mustard sauce through the slightly firm chicken livers to the crisp pastry and greens. The vivid flavors of the mustard and livers could stand up to the blend of Rhone varietals. Our dinners were old favorites, the tuna and the scallop and shrimp combo. The tuna is blackened and placed on a bed of crab risotto and vegetables. Be not afraid, this is not blackened as things were at the height of this craze in the northeast, circa 1985. There is a peppery bit on the outside, but just enough to enhance the tuna. Again, the quality of the tuna and the other exotic flavors made the Crozes-Hermitage a good choice. The scallops and shrimp arrived in a phyllo dough brick on a mushroom risotto with garlic parsley butter. The chef has added some crunch to a dish a bit short of texture and the result is quite pleasing. This is the one plate that might have had trouble with the large tastes in the wine, but the earthy mushroom risotto (and Martha's love of big red wines) solved that problem. We were offered after dinner drinks on the house, but headed out to see more of the Tuesday night happenings. Despite being absolutely packed, the kitchen and wait staff performed beautifully.
Tuesday Nights: A marching band passed by while we were having dinner. We bought an acrylic painting from Jill Alexander, caught a few songs from Loulou at G's Spot, and headed over for a Leffe draft at Blue Martini. Waiting for a band to start in SXM defines long-suffering and waiting for a reggae band is terminal long-suffering.
On Wednesday we had a wonderful dinner at Ti Bouchon in Cul de Sac. Momo has totally repainted the cottage, tweaked the menu, and tuned up the wine list. It's all up on the website. We started with one of Momo's new aps: a rosette of scallop slices and chorizo. The luscious, rich softness of the thinly-sliced scallops contrasted with then spicy crunch of the chorizo and worked well with yet another Crozes-Hermitage, this one from 2004 from Chapoutier ($31). Our dinners were the newly revised sweetbread dish and the veal chops. The sweetbreads were in a mustard sauce with mushrooms and four small veal chops were presented with oyster mushrooms in a reduction sauce. All dinners come with garlic mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, and fresh vegetables. The prices are low ($19 to 24 for the main courses). The physical plant is more cute than elegant, but there is ample parking, some in front, and more in the back. It is well worth the drive.
Every Tuesday afternoon from 4:30 until 6:00, Ti Bouchon will host a small (ten people maximum) wine tasting on their porch. There is no charge, but if you would like to attend, please visit the website and call or send an reservation request no more than one month in advance. Be sure to mention a date and the number in your party.
On Thursday, after PDG, we went on to Pburg for a bit of shopping and computer repair at MVG. They are moving to the second floor of the new building across from the cinema in Simpson Bay. That will make things easier for me anyway. They do the warrantee work for Dell. We stopped for lunch at Greenhouse Restaurant at the head of town. They have quite an extensive menu but we just had hamburgers or a patty melt when we saw the Angus beef sticker in the menu. I won't get too ecstatic about hamburger, but these were good.
On Friday evening we stopped at SkipJack's Brad said the swordfish was quite fresh and cut thick and one prime rib was still available. We said yes to both and ordered a bottle of Mondavi's Pinot Noir. The dinners came with carrots, zuke, and red peppers plus choice of starch, but we always get the baked potato. There were a pair of dipping sauces for the swordfish, but it was fine just as it was. The prime rib had a touch of sauce also. All in all, it's just good food, not terribly fancy, and good sized portions at good prices. Add in quite a bit of parking out front and free Wifi as you gaze out at the megayachts in the lagoon, and you'll have a great lunch or dinner. You can easily keep a plentiful dinner for two under $100 with drinks, even wine.
Changes: We caught up with the manager at La Suite, the new restaurant upstairs in the Mangrove Building across from Marci's Mega Gym 2000 in Simpson Bay. He used to be the waiter at Hibiscus Restaurant early last season. I don't know who has the money behind this restaurant, but there are two chefs imported from France and a fairly fancy menu with prices into the $30's for main courses. It's brand new and looks quite smart.
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 in the US.
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.