St Maarten/St Martin
SXM-Beaches: Orient looked great on Sunday, not even too crowded.
Rollers came in and reduced Cupecoy considerably. At present one can walk from Sapphire to Cliffhanger with difficulty. There is a bit of beach at Sapphire and a rather large beach at Cliffhanger. You can't even walk to Ocean Club, but there is no reason to as there is no dry sand there anyway! Wendy K reports that the cove at Cupecoy has a bit of sand for the first time this season and the beach at the monolith also has some, but it is gone from there to London's Folly. The swells are still large, but one can swim. The
online version of this newsletter has some photos taken from Sapphire looking down toward Cliffhanger with Rainbow Beach Club looming overhead.
Beach Reading: I just finished The Night Manager by John Le Carré. It's an interesting tale of espionage in the new world order. If you haven't read Le Carré, you should. Consider also: The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré. and The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré..
Traffic: On Saturday, we actually drove over to Cole Bay at 10AM and beat the 11:30 opening on our return. We needed some cup hooks and there is a very large hardware and lumber store in Cay Bay. We also needed some cooking twine to bind up more tenderloin from Merchant's Market. PDG in Cole Bay supplies most of the restaurants on the island and has all the cooking things you'll ever need need.
Art in the Park: Have a great day in the great outdoors on Sunday 11 Feb at Emilio Wilson Park from 10AM until 4 PM. There will be plenty of art, but also we've seen rums and snacks. Proceeds are donated to the park for its maintenance. There's a bit more from last year's event on the website.
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). 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.
Caravanserai: Sorry for the bad news, but I haven't seen anything like construction here yet. Demolition, yes, but still no construction. Bamboo Bernies is in good shape, which you'll see once you walk past all the barriers around the demolition next door. They are still doing free and cheap drinks from 5 until 8 and the sunset is still free. Now you know why I visit Caravanserai so often!
Atrium: It appears the 200-some owners who filed a court case got an injunction preventing the Atrium from charging them for the large increase in maintenance and the extra two years of maintenance fees that they wanted. It applies to them (the 200-some who filed the lawsuit) only, not any other owners. And for their troubles, the Atrium has filed a suit saying that a contract can be modified by an Antillean court if "tings have changed, mon". Possibly that's not the exact wording, but I'm sure that the court could easily understand that the Atrium developers overlooked the fact that the year 2000 was not a leap year. Thus, the missing day's revenue should justify a minor increase in assessments. Good luck.
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 have been getting Guadeloupe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella at the Grand Marché in Cole Bay. They have good balsamic vinegar, good olive oils, and fresh basil. You can make a great Caprese salad in your condo. We completed this meal with pears and Fourme d'Ambert (similar to Roquefort), also from the Grand Marché and accompanied it with Alain Brumont's Gros Manseng, a slightly sweet wine from Select Wine Cellar. We had cocktails at Wendy K's condo on the lagoon on Friday evening and they have been on a Roquefort kick lately, so I must add that when I say Fourme d'Ambert is similar to Roquefort, that is it. It is nowhere near as intense and tangy. Some people might like that better. Some people don't.
Our baguettes have been coming from US Imports (it's the same bakery that was next door, Ted, but now they don't do retail, so you buy it at the grocery store). We also have been getting banettes from La Banette on the Marigot waterfront. It's a larger diameter, but shorter bread, usually made from a starter, requiring a longer slower rise, but producing a bit more flavor than a commercial yeast. We usually buy several, cut them into smaller pieces, and freeze most of them. A quick reheat in the toaster oven makes them taste better than fresh from the bakery.
On Saturday, my celebratory weekend omelet included some bits off a talon of Bayonne ham. US Imports sells talons (heels, or end pieces that can no longer safely be put into the slicer) at reduced prices. We frequently buy them, chunk them up, and have wonderful meals on the cheap. To this omelet, I added onion, pepper, and my hand instinctively grabbed the Beaufort cheese, also from US Imports, at the urging of the cheese lady. Later that day as we were enjoying another recommendation from her, Fleur d'Aunis, we turned to Steven Jenkins' Cheese Primer. This cheese was quite good, medium firm, with a bit of barnyard, but nowhere to be found in Jenkins' book. I flipped through and came to Beaufort. His bottom line entry says "Superb mountain cheese; equally fine for eating or melting; price is its only drawback - costs as least as twice as much as French Comté of Swiss Gruyère." I checked. Our cheese on sale was 10 euros per kilo, the Comté was 12, and the Beaufort was 20, but good!
Not a big deal but the cheapest sparkling water we have found is Pelligrino at the Lido in Maho - when they have it.
Gasoline: Also not a big deal as, for once, the French side is about the same as the Dutch side. It is 1.60 guilders per liter, or about $3.40 per gallon at Texaco stations and $3.50 at Shell stations. Last I checked Texaco used 1.8 guilders to the dollar while Shell used 1.75. The Cadisco stations on the French side have 0.90 euro cents per liter, but they do 1 to 1 on the exchange. It is for cash only, but then again, they don't take credit cards. That comes to about $3.45 per gallon. On a 10 gallon fillup, you'd save a buck or so at a Texaco IF (and this is a big if) they gave you the correct exchange rate. Watch carefully, check it by dividing by 2 and adding 10%. If it isn't close, ask for the calculator. The other approach is to give them 10 bucks and make sure you get 18 guilders on the pump, or $20 for 36 guilders.
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. the casino has two new restaurants: the “Rock House”, restaurant and sports bar with “Just Sushi” at one end and a terrace restaurant called “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. Friday Night in the Rock House is Karaoke with over 2000 songs in English and French. Monday night (in football season) 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 Sunday we went to Kakao Beach on Orient Beach for a lazy lunch with our feet in the sand. We had lunch with Patrica and Timothy from L'Esperance Car Rental and L'Esperance Hotel. It was yet another lovely day and Orient was picture perfect. We started with a tapas ap plate that contained fried calamari, a couple accras (codfish fritters), and some nems. Lots of interesting tastes and three sauces. Our main courses were a salmon and scallop salad with spinach, a ouassous (fresh water shrimp) thermidor, a supreme pizza (tomatoes, ham, cheese, and mushrooms), and a salade Niçoise. Everyone was quite happy. We added a couple bottles of the low-end rosé and found it to be quite good. Dessert was an apple tart with four spoons and a few hits of banana/vanilla rum. We actually spent four hours at the table! Lovely spot, great food, and good service. Our total bill was about $180. There are some photos of the food on the website.
On Monday night we went to Hibiscus Restaurant in Grand Case. They are between the center of town and Grand Case Beach Club to the east, just past Pressoir. We still park in the lot in the center of town and walk because it is unlikely that you can find a spot on the street or in the small free lots on the way to Hibiscus. They were pretty busy, which was good for the Buratos as they had just taken over this restaurant at the end of last season. We ordered an Allees de Cantemerle (2001, $39), the second wine of Ch Cantemerle, and after considerable rooting in the wine cooler, it appeared on our table. It was wonderful, with a nice amount of age, a nice round start, and a rather long, smooth finish. It was especially nice with the duck ravioli ($13) that we had as a starter: tender, long-cooked bits of duck in home-made pasta with a lovely reduction sauce with star anise and a bit of thyme. (In actuality, we started with a complimentary amuse bouche: a small bowl of gazpacho with thin-sliced almonds, quite nice). Our dinners were French seabass with a saffron sauce atop some risotto primavera ($27) and the sweetbreads with porcini (cepes, in French) and a light brown sauce with a hint of lemon ($26). The seabass had real saffron, not turmeric, and it exploded with flavor, standing up nicely to the red wine. The sweetbreads with their rich sauce also did well with the wine. Some coffees and complimentary grappa ended the evening. As they are doing 1 to 1 for cash, our total bill was about $116. That's pretty good for a meal of this quality. Two things to note: It's small, physically and staffwise, so large parties are not possible, reservations would be a great help, and when they get slammed, things slow down. The other is that it is one to one for CASH. Now that Rainbow has closed, I don't know anyplace that is doing 1 to 1 for credit cards.
On Tuesday we went with Michael Dingemans, the publisher of St Maarten Events, to Mario's Bistro. We easily obtained a 9PM waterfront reservation with only a few days notice. The 7PM reservations are a bit harder to get. It was a lovely warm evening and the canal featured large tarpon feeding (sometimes on Mario's bread). We settled in with a glass of champagne as we perused the menu. We chose a special shrimp ap and the trilogy of tuna. We ordered the 2001 Beaune Enfant Jesus from Bouchard. The trilogy arrived with a small tuna roll atop a bed of crunchy wakame seaweed, some sashimi tuna atop a bed of tiny green beans, and a bit of curried tuna in a martini glass with bits of fried plantain (?) to use as chips. Each approach a different flavor and a bit of crunch to compliment the buttery smoothness of the top quality tuna. Our dinners were a Chilean seabass, special lamb chops, and the special pork tenderloin wrapped in Canadian bacon. I've had this before and will probably have it again, as it is centered on the tenderest of pork wrapped with very flavorful bacon surrounded by a wonderful sauce. The seabass came with a crab risotto cake, lobster sauce, and skewer of grilled shrimp. We lingered over coffee and rum/brandy until midnight discussing SXM in the 80's when Michael first visited and the early 90's when we arrived and that's why there isn't much on the dinner. It was all very good, certainly one of the best on the island.
On Saturday we went to Montmartre Restaurant, said "Pamper me", and started with a complimentary glass of champagne. It appears that we finished all the 1997 Beaune Champs-Pimont, but Olivier has substituted the 2002 Beaune du Chateau from Bouchard. It's lovely, but younger, more lively, not as smooth and finished. I hope there is enough to last another five years. Thierry Delauney, previously the chef/owner of Hibiscus Restaurant has settled in nicely here. Owners Karen and Pascal have kept the menu similar to years past, allowing Thierry to tweak various things, add a few others, and make some surprising specials. Martha started with tuna sashimi which featured five large strips of top quality tuna topped with bits of preserved lime, a zucchini slice wrapped around a serving of quinoa flavored with lemon juice, a dollop of wakame seaweed, and a breadstick for even more crunch. Quinoa was a staple of the pre-Columbian Andes because it grows at elevations higher than corn can withstand. Moreover, its protein equivalent is similar to milk because of its high concentration of essential amino acids. More on this later, but this is a Thierry dish, mixing Moroccan preserved lime with Japanese raw fish and seaweed and adding a South American grain. There is a lot going on here but it all tasted good together and was fine with the red wine, despite the fish centerpiece. My ap was the more standard terrine of foie gras with toasted brioche, a bit of sweet onion jam, a bit of aspic, and some greens. The terrine was much like butter and I probably should have had a glass of sweet wine (Sauternes, Monbazillac, Beaumes des Venise) with this over-the-top preparation, but the red wine was fine. Our dinners were both fish (with red wine), but big flavorful preparations. Martha had the grouper with leeks and bacon in a red wine sauce. The leeks and bacon add both flavor and texture to a white-fleshed fish. The menu said a yam cake accompanied the grouper, but it sure looked like a risotto and tasted like a cheese flavored risotto. Obviously, as it came in a red wine sauce, we had another vote for red wine with fish. My dish was typically Thierry, a cassoulet (tender long-cooked beans with onions, herbs, and spices in a tomato sauce) topped with fish (?). There were bits of salmon, snapper, grouper, and lotte with a solitary, though significant, scallop. We finished with coffee and balloons of 92 Laubade Armagnac. The restaurant was quite full at times, but the wait staff was up to the task. We think they are among the best on the island, knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly. It also helps to have an owner, Karen, on premises.
We headed through Carlo's Napoli Restaurant's outdoor tables to cut through Atlantis Casino to retrieve our car from the free valet parking lot attendant. At one of the tables, we saw Kathy, owner of Endless Summer beachwear with outposts in Simpson Bay and on Front Street in Pburg. She said that the Front Street store was closing at the end of the season as the building was being demolished and rebuilt. Simpson Bay will stay open and she hopes to be in the new building on Front Street by the beginning of next season. She did note that a large sale would be coming for those lucky enough to be here toward the end of this season. If you are not, there is a coupon on the site to save you a few dollars now. The other news is that Carlo has a wood-fired pizza oven. I guess I knew that as I have seen it several times, but Kathy's table mentioned that the pizzas are quite good.
We cut through the Casino and walked out onto the terrace dining area of Thai Savanh' where we bumped into Deepti, Jeff, and assorted brothers and mates from DK Gems. They were having a night out, something rare as Deepti claims to be working late and frequently. Now that there are four cruise ships on Sunday, the shop is open every day.
I just read a 12 page article entitled Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan in the NY Times. He is the Knight professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” was chosen by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2006. I'm not sure that link will still be up when you get this, or that it will still be part of the "free" NY Times, so here is a synopsis:
Over thirty years ago, the US gov put out a draft report saying we should eat less red meat. The lead name on the report was Sen George McGovern of South Dakota, a state where the production of red meat is a major business. Shortly thereafter, the report was changed to say something about reducing cholesterol, whatever that is. And so it went. Having two degrees from MIT, I can verify that if you ever want to obfuscate an issue, have a scientist issue a statement talking about things you can't see, backed up by a pile of statistics that nobody understands. Thus started the big shift from thinking about food to thinking about nutrition. So that is the first ten pages, but what he concludes is:
1. Eat food. There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.
2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. Go to the farmer’s market.
5. Pay more, eat less. Related to #4.
6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than Americans are. Let culture be your guide, not science.
8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet.
There are a lot of reasons for these rules in the first ten pages, and while I don't expect many people to read them, they all sound good to me. Those with lots of spare time might want to go back and peruse the dinner at Montmartre while these rules are in mind. I'll let Thierry do the first part of rule 8 and trust his shopping to get the best of the second part.
Changes: Rancho del Sol started delivery this weekend, every night of the week for everything on the menu after 6PM. Sounds convenient if you are out in the Orient area.
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.