St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: The early part of the week was pretty miserable, but by Tuesday things were much better, albeit not without some sprinkles. Wednesday was a nice day, but waves of showers passed over the island in the late evening. We had another upon awaking on Thursday morning. By 9AM, the day looked lovely with lots of blue sky and no whitecaps on the lagoon. However, Saba was lost in the mist and dark clouds were massing over the interior peaks. Thursday and Friday had quite a bit of rain, but by late Friday it had cleared out. The evening was most pleasant and the drive back from Grand Case featured stars in the sky for the first time in days. Saturday morning broke with views of Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and Nevis across a calm sea under a blue sky, still a bit of a breeze, but no whitecaps on the lagoon. That evening featured a large sun dropping out of the clouds and disappearing into the Carib with a green flash. The online version has photos of the sunset on Saturday evening. Sunset will be at 5:58PM on Sunday and the moon is a waxing crescent.|
SXM-Beaches: Saturday was such a great day and it was made even more so by a great day on Cupecoy. I admit we hadn't noticed some rollers coming from the NW and were surprised to find no sand in the little cove, none at the monolith, and a small, very crowded amount at the extreme NW end alongside London's Folly. We turned around and ended up beneath the cliff at the end of the parking lot next to Ocean Club. There was a bit of sand, lots of sun, and nobody around. For the first time since Lenny in 1999, we were able to walk back to Sapphire on the beach!
Beach Reading: I've read several books by Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence being the first and I believe he may have worn that genre out, at least for me, but I just found French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew to be quite interesting as it traveled far beyond Provence investigating dining habits throughout France. Some of this is applicable to SXM. Certainly some of the comments concerning waiters are spot on. Waiters are respected in France and one can make enough money to have a respectable life. This is most unlike the US where they are called waiters because they are waiting for a better job. I once ordered two rather meaty dinners and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in the wilds of western Massachusetts. I was brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. One out of two probably got our waitron through high school, no reason it shouldn't work forever after.
|Old Time Regatta On Saturday there was a regatta featuring old multi-masted ships. I was pleasantly surprised when they came past our Caribbean-side balcony in the early afternoon. The online version has photos of them sailing by with Saba in the background on that particularly clear afternoon.|
Traffic: We tried to go through Simpson Bay at 6PM and got stopped along side the runway in front of Uncle Harry's on Tuesday night. It was about 6:15 before we got over the bridge. You never know.
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). 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.
Drinking and driving: Some one asked about penalties on the French side. Tourists rarely get jail time, and although you may spend the night there, the authorities certainly don't want to pay to feed and house you for very long. The law mentions jail time and a fine of up to 750€, currently about $1000. They also can suspend licenses and/or add points. Unfortunately, many evildoers have neither licenses nor insurance, so these are rather toothless penalties. Moreover, I doubt these last two penalties could make it across the Atlantic. Nonetheless, a night in the slammer at a cost of $1000 should keep you counting those drinks at 0.02 BAC each. Subtract 0.02 for every hour. Keep it under 0.05.
Passports are required All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page. Get a Passport!
Groceries: We stopped at the Grand Marché in Cole Bay for the first time and were pleasantly surprised. This is in the old Napa Parts store and it is spacious. Moreover, the variety is most impressive. Being quite close to the French side, they have an excellent selection of wine and many other things French. They also have scanners in the aisles so that you can get a price check on the numerous things lacking shelf tags.
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 for this season. 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.
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In any event, this season, some restaurants are still offering a 1 to 1 exchange. I don't doubt that after years of turmoil, the French wine prices have risen and even the food has gone up a bit. They still have pretty good prices and as many restaurants have online menus, you could do the math (if the websites were up to date). We noticed 1 to 1 at Bistrot Caraïbes, Blue Martini, California Restaurant, Hibiscus Restaurant, Restaurant du Soleil, Ti Bouchon, El Rancho del Sol, Kokomarina, L'Estaminet, and La Marine. Note that some only offer this rate for cash. 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.
We stayed home on Sunday to watch the Patriots put up the winning field goal with about a minute left as we had some more Angus filet mignon from Merchants Market in Cole Bay. We had a 2002 Beaune Clos des Mouches from Drouhin with the dinner. It was very good, but not as good as we hoped. The finish was not as long as we expected. Then again, 2002 was a great year and possibly this wine is in a dumb phase before it explodes into its full potential.
|On Monday, our anniversary, we went to Mario's Bistro, and got a waterfront table for the 9PM seating. We had already used up much of a 98 (the year we got married) Deutz Blanc de Blanc Champagne from Select Wine Cellar, so we started right in with the 2003 Beaune Bressands from Jadot. Our ap was a special: a bit of crisp sweetbread on a bed of arugula topped with a corral of white and green asparagus holding in two quail eggs with a hint of truffle oil. Martha had one of Mario's signature dishes: the beef shortribs with almond gremolata (a mixture of parsley, garlic, and lemon peel), and chick pea fritters. I had rack of lamb with a mushroom risotto in a mushroom sauce with deep-fried portobello strips. All these dinners had the things that make Mario's special, many flavors, many textures, and a beautiful presentation. We were in no hurry and ordered a 2001 Beaune Grèves Premiere Cru Vigne de L'Enfant Jesus from Bouchard. It is his monopole, ie Bouchard owns the entire the vineyard, raises the grapes, vinifies them, and bottles the wine. That gives them total control and it was a splendid wine. These two wines and the previous night's wine all cost about 80 euros at Mario's and this is the one we liked best. There is a photo in the online version of this newsletter. If you are doing a BAC calculation, I figured three quarters of a bottle of champagne, and one and a quarter bottles of wine (we took most of the second bottle home), plus two after dinner drinks. That makes two bottles of wine, shared, or one bottle or five drinks plus the two after dinner drinks, seven total. 7 x 0.02 = 0.14 BAC. We started at 6PM and left the restaurant at 1AM. Seven hours = 7 x 0.02 = 0.14 decrease. Yes, I was stone cold sober and had even been told that there was a roadblock between Mario's and our home. No problems.|
On Tuesday night a friend called from next door and suggested dinner. We went with his suggestion of Saratoga in Simpson Bay. John Jackson, a CIA grad, was the chef at Rainbow before Mario. He started up his own place on a corner of the lagoon at the Simpson Bay Yacht Club complex on the eastern side of the Dutch Bridge. There's generally plenty of parking and lots of waterfront tables on the porch that wraps around two sides of the main room. We started with his crabcake in as spicy remoulade and some mussels steamed in white wine and herbs, both rather standard, but both done well and quite tasty. The mussels were plump. We were sure the spices in the remoulade could stand up to a red wine so we ordered the 2001 Savigny Les Beaune from Bouchard (about $50). I'm beginning to think the 2001 is a better year to drink now than the 2002. The 2002 will be a better wine and that will require longer aging. 2001 wasn't quite as good and has the advantage of another year in the bottle. My tablemates each had the whole deep-fried black seabass with sautéed snow peas and rice and I had the tuna with soy and wasabi and an array of veg. The seabass is a bit of work as it arrives with head, tail, and backbone, but I snagged a bit from Martha and found it to be quite good with its black bean sauce with fried garlic chips and scallions. The aps were in the $15 to $20 range and the main courses were in the $25 to $35 range. With our wine and water and the added 15% service charge, our bill came to about $70 per person.
Wednesday dinner was at L'Escapade Restaurant. As usual, we parked at the parking lot in the center of town and had a short stroll over to the restaurant. A reservation got us a window table, which, given the showers that swept through, was not as nice as it should have been. By the end of dinner, it was back to beautiful. Nothing you can do about the weather, but starting the meal with a glass of champagne certainly helps and meal and/or weather pattern. We sipped as we looked over Stéphane's new menu and Axel told us about some specials. One was the trilogy of foie gras containing a piece of foie gras marinated with Armagnac, the classic terrine de foie gras with a bit of smoked duck breast, and our favorite: grilled with chocolate and vinegar. Sounds weird, but try it. The plate came with a mango and papaya chutney and was liberally seasoned with fleur de sel. A bit of sweet wine would have been fabulous, but we had already opened a 2000 Volnay Clos des Chênes. It was a wonderful Burgundy with quite a bit of age. The wine list here is among the best on the island and storage area shows that they mean business. Martha moved on to the cassoulet and I had the lamb with a hint of goat cheese accompanied by lentils with a lot of goat cheese. The cassoulet was a garlicky wonder with sausage, duck, and beans with a hint of vinegar. It was a very good dinner on the water and with 1 to 1 exchange, we only paid $170, about half for our wine.
As we headed back to the parking lot, we passed G's Spot and found Joseph (from the parking lot) and his wife Karen and assorted others having a few liquid libations. We were invited for a bit of gossip and went back to the 90's discussing how much Grand Case has changed.
Thursday for lunch, we went to Rancho del Sol and had pizzas with a bottle of MonRedon Cotes du Rhone. Possibly not fine dining, but the view of all of Orient Bay from their perch is quite nice. This is Zuzu's son, Johann, and his girlfriend Chantel. They are serving a reduced version of the menu that Zuzu and Alain developed at California Restaurant. Another California tradition that Johann has followed is the 1 to 1 exchange rate. The morning was rainy but held off throughout our lunch, making for spectacular viewing.
We finished and headed down to Bikini Beach to catch a few rays and a few songs from Latin Sugar. We were heading down the beach to visit with Zuzu's daughter at Kokomarina and eventually to some chairs at Pedro's Beach Bar when the heaven's opened.
On Friday we dined at Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case. We parked in the lot in the center of town and strolled down to a table on the porch. As we arrived, we said "Pamper me" and received a complimentary champagne cocktail. The view from the porch has always been good as Le Tastevin across the street is beautifully restored, but it is even better now as several buildings more buildings have been refurbished. Even though they were named "Best of the Caribbean" in Caribbean Travel & Life's readers poll, there are a few changes to the menu this season. We started with an old favorite, an aumônière, goat cheese with Roquefort cheese and pecans baked in phyllo dough surrounded by baked apple on a bed of lettuce with balsamic dressing ($11). An aumônière translates as a beggar's purse and the phyllo dough is wrapped around the cheese and pecans and formed up into the shape of a drawstring purse. The ô generally indicates than an s has been dropped from the word, and indeed, the English word alms (for which beggar's beg) is related. Drouhin's "house" wines, La Fôret, the forest, also come to mind. So much for etymology, how does it taste? In a word, wonderful. Obviously, there are many flavors on this plate: two cheeses, nuts, apples, and balsamic vinegar, many of which have been enhanced by baking. There is also the range of textures, from the crispness of the phyllo dough, through the chewy pecans, to the melt in your mouth cheeses, and this is just the aumônière. It's on a bed of crisp greens with several baked apple slices nestled on endive leaves. We finished the champagne with this ap and moved on to the 2001 Crozes-Hermitage from Jaboulet ($49), another favorite at Auberge Gourmande. After six years, the wine is knitted together well, large and smooth. Not too large to overpower the Chilean sea bass and shrimp in a coconut sauce ($29) or the chicken breast stuffed with bleu cheese and surrounded with morel sauce ($26). The dinners included roasted veg and mashed sweet potatoes or scalloped potatoes. We certainly had had enough at this point and retired from the fray, finishing the last of our bottled water with a complimentary rum. All in all, we have to agree with the CT&L readers, it is one of the best of the Caribbean. Note that I am using dollars for prices because they do 1 to 1 for cash. Remember that and save 30%.
On the way back to the parking lot, we bumped into Thibault Meziere from Bistrot Caraïbes. We had seen them earlier and they had mentioned that they had seen our article in St Maarten Events featuring a recipe from their restaurant. Obviously, it was not a major surprise as we had consulted with them as we were writing the article last fall, but this is the first time that they had seen the article in print as the magazines are just reaching the island. At this point we were invited in for a bit of Armagnac and considerable palaver.
We headed home through Cole Bay and Simpson Bay stopping for a visit with Brad at SkipJack's. He's been doing well. Neil Roebert now starts and ends the Lagoon Pub Crawl here, having built a dock behind the restaurant.
|Changes: Ironhorse/Coconut Joe's/whatever is now for sale. Perroquet became Breezin' for a few moments and is now Fathoms Tavern. It has been bought by a group that owns a marina in Florida. They have opened up the floorplan, focusing more on the lovely lagoon waterfront and repainted. A dinghy dock with a stage was put out into the lagoon. Greg, the chef at SkipJack's last year, has come over here with most of his previous menu and several additions in the appetizer department. They had a benefit for Austin and Christina on Wednesday night. They were the couple who were hit by a van in front of the restaurant around New Year's. He is still in the hospital, but recovering. Several bands, or at least several musicians from several bands, were jamming away when we got there at about 11PM. It looked like a good time was had by all and it certainly was for a good cause. this is the band, One White Chick. The chick in this case is the one on the stage with the sax, not the blonde in front with the ...|
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)
We have a car from Don at GCL Car Rental. They have always been good to us and you can read several testimonials on their site from others. He and Daniel are certainly worth an email when you want reliable, yet inexpensive, transportation. I've never tested them, but they say they will come and pick you up if you think you have over-indulged.
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.