St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Last week I said that Sunday has arrived with lots of clouds, but no rain. I spoke too soon. In fact it has been rainy all week. Mostly shower activity with lots of sun in between and temperatures up into the low 80's. We just had a whiteout here in Cupecoy on Friday morning, but it was over in about 5 minutes. The sky is gray, but the sun is out and there is a rainbow over our end of Cupecoy, coming down just above the Orient Express project. The rest of the day was fairly nice and so was Saturday, although a bit breezy with whitecaps on the lagoon. By the end of the day, the wind had died off, a green flash peaked through some clouds on the horizon, and the planes were taking off in the other direction. A rain shower floated over Cupecoy in the evening. Sunday has dawned to a lot of clouds, but it's not raining ... yet. All in all, it has been a fairly good week marked by lots of showers but little of the usual Christmas winds. Sunset will be at 5:48PM on Sunday and the moon was full on Tuesday.|
Beach reading: Check out Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford . We first read excerpts of this in The New Yorker and now it is out as a book. Anthony Bourdain says: "Heat is a remarkable work on a number of fronts--and for a number of reasons. First, watching the author, an untrained, inexperienced and middle-aged desk jockey slowly transform into not just a useful line cook--but an extraordinarily knowledgeable one is pure pleasure. That he chooses to do so primarily in the notoriously difficult, cramped kitchens of New York's three star Babbo provides further sado-masochistic fun. Buford not only accurately and hilariously describes the painfully acquired techniques of the professional cook (and his own humiliations), but chronicles as well the mental changes--the "kitchen awareness" and peculiar world view necessary to the kitchen dweller. By end of book, he's even talking like a line cook.
Secondly, the book is a long overdue portrait of the real Mario Batali and of the real Marco Pierre White--two complicated and brilliant chefs whose coverage in the press--while appropriately fawning--has never described them in their fully debauched, delightful glory. Buford has--for the first time--managed to explain White's peculiar--almost freakish brilliance--while humanizing a man known for terrorizing cooks, customers (and Batali). As for Mario--he is finally revealed for the Falstaffian, larger than life, mercurial, frighteningly intelligent chef/entrepreneur he really is. No small accomplishment. Other cooks, chefs, butchers, artisans and restaurant lifers are described with similar insight.
Thirdly, Heat reveals a dead-on understanding--rare among non-chef writers--of the pleasures of "making" food; the real human cost, the real requirements and the real adrenalin-rush-inducing pleasures of cranking out hundreds of high quality meals. One is left with a truly unique appreciation of not only what is truly good about food--but as importantly, who cooks--and why. I can't think of another book which takes such an unsparing, uncompromising and ultimately thrilling look at the quest for culinary excellence. Heat brims with fascinating observations on cooking, incredible characters, useful discourse and argument-ending arcania. I read my copy and immediately started reading it again. It's going right in between Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London and Zola's The Belly of Paris on my bookshelf."
|Traffic: Not a bad week. Having the Dutch side shut down for Monday and Tuesday (for many businesses) was helpful. On Thursday at 3:40 we went over to MVG in Simpson Bay with little trouble. We got caught in the 4:30 bridge opening on the way back and it was quite short. Friday we went shopping in Pburg making it over and back before lunch. They are towing at the airport. Here is the tow truck and an unlucky victim.|
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 email@example.com 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 required tomorrow: This has been postponed once, and once again, but now they are saying that all travel to the USA will require a passport after tomorrow, 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!
Groceries: US Import was having a sale on Brillat-Savarin. Yes, this cheese was named after Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. The cheese, according to Jenkins's Cheese Primer, is meant to accompany sweet desserts (often fruit) and champagne. Now you know why it was on sale just before the New Year. It was 12.90 euros per kg, about $8 per pound - quite cheap for such a fine cheese. It is very rarely found in the US as it should be eaten so fresh that it requires air transport - one of the benefits of an island that has daily direct flights from Paris!
We picked up some Alaskan wild salmon from Cost U Less. It was hot smoked meaning that the salmon retains less moisture, making it flaky and so stable it does not need refrigeration. Moreover, it becomes very smoky tasting. Don't ask me which I like best, but doing away with the refrigeration means that this can sell for $12 per pound.
Small Island Story: We stopped at Cost U Less and Grand Marché in Pburg on Thursday. Neither had yogurt in the large containers and only one had milk.
Just announced: a winter special, buy 5 nights, get two free, buy 7 nights, get 3 free, though March 31, 2007. Not all rooms and dates are eligible, but it is a great deal for last minute travel plans.
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! And while you are there, enter the summer contest where they can enter to win seven nights during June, July, or August.
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.
New Years Eve: Most restaurants have some specials and many have fixed menus. Many areas have fireworks. Great Bay had fireworks, a laser show, and lots of parties on the boardwalk. Orient had fireworks and the Copacabana Dancers. We stayed home and had smoked salmon with Duetz Champagne Blanc de Blancs (under $80) from Select Wine Cellar followed by more Angus beef tenderloin that we had purchased from Merchants Market in Cole Bay the week before. With that, we had a 2004 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots, also from Select. Our neighbor, the owner of Hollywood casino, throws a party for a hundred or so people and does fireworks at midnight. We don't make the guest list, but from the back balcony of our condo at Sapphire we watch his show from the hot tub with the last of our champagne. We also get to see fireworks at Maho, La Samanna, and Marigot. We had been invited out on Celine to sail to Philipsburg, but as the road through Maho turns into a solid three hour blockage after 1AM, we declined.
|On Tuesday we had plans to go over to Grand Case for their Tuesday Night affair and have dinner on the porch at Sunset Café. Sounds like last week, but this is Pascal and Karen's other Grand Case restaurant, inside the grounds at Grand Case Beach Club. As such, there is no view of the festivities. There is a lovely view of the floodlit beach and the waves are considerably quieter than the marching band. This is one way to see the festivities before and after a relaxing dinner. Unfortunately, our cat died at lunchtime so we cancelled our plans. Here's a marching band, art from Jill Alexander, and a shot of Loulou at G's Spot from the week before.|
On Wednesday we stayed at Sapphire and stumbled down to Blue Sapphire Cafe for their $25 three course Bistrot Dinner. The restaurant is owned by José from Le Tastevin and Pascal from L'Alabama Restaurant and while this restaurant does not rival their flagship restaurants, it is quite good and at $25 for a three course meal, quite inexpensive. We started with frog legs and snails, nothing new and exciting, of course, just good and very French. The striploin and filet of sole amandine followed, also good as were desserts of tarte tatin and crème brulée. There you have it: two completely different three course meals for a mere $25. Pascal and José both have very good wine lists in their flagship restaurants and it shows here at Blue Sapphire.
On Thursday we went to Montmartre Restaurant at Atlantis Casino, long one of our favorite restaurants and only partially because it is so close. Before we even sat down, Olivier, the head waiter, said that he had only one bottle of the 97 Beaune Premier Cru left. I admit we go there more often than most, but this was the first time in seven months. That is a good waiter. Thierry Delauney, the previous owner of Hibiscus Restaurant, is now the chef here and it shows. The dishes are a bit more creative, but I think Thierry's whimsy is held in check a bit. We started with tuna tartare accompanied by a crisp cracker, wakame, and quinao wrapped in a thin slice of zucchini. I trust we all know crackers and wakame is a Japanese crunchy seaweed. Quinoa (KEEN-wah) was a grain used by the Aztecs who called it the mother of grains. It is a "complete protein" containing all eight essential amino acids. It cooks like rice, fluffing up to four times its original size, but faster. As usual, the tuna was superb. Olivier convinced me to have the veal as it will probably not be on the menu for very much longer and Martha had shrimp. My rather large veal chop came with a basket of crisp peas, onions, and lardons - a lovely combination. I also had some crispy scalloped potatoes lavished with a hint of cheese and the triumph was a puff pastry loaded with black trumpet mushrooms in a rich cream sauce that spread over to the veal. These are our favorite mushrooms and we regularly check a hillock on our farm where they grow almost every year. Martha's shrimp were very large and came with pasta in a pesto sauce and a relative of ratatouille: zucchini, eggplant, tomato, and fava beans. The dining room has been remodeled a bit and looks quite sharp. It's well worth a visit and say "Pamper me with a welcome cocktail" as you sit down and it's on the house.
We were supposed to go over to Mario's Bistro for a drink to celebrate the end of the first month of online sales for the Mario's Bistro Cookbook, but we both have colds. This, and our cat, explain the lack of restaurant news.
Changes: Topper's has replaced Bananas in Simpson Bay, but appears to be serving similar food. Coconut Joe's replacement seems to have faded away without any lasting impression. Across the street, Boulevard Diner claims to have free WiFi.
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.
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. Chef Antonio was here over the holidays and will be back, so stay tuned. 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.