St Maarten/St Martin
Newsletters: I guess I'm not special, several other people wrote that they also received Jeff Berger's Monday newsletter on Sunday morning complete with description of a great time at a Sunday night Superbowl party at one of his clients.
SXM-Beaches: Sunday at Orient was lovely, little wind, lots of sun. We had lunch at Pirate Beach Bar (see below) and wandered down to chairs at Pedro's Beach Bar on the edge of the nude section, enjoying Pedro's $2 beers, rather than the Perch's higher-priced alternative. The online version of this newsletter has a photo of the parasail at Orient. There is sand at the SE end of Cupecoy, beneath Rainbow Beach, The Cliff, and Cliffhanger.
Beach Reading: I just finished Glitz by Elmore Leonard. It's a bit old, from the 80's but it is about casinos and starts in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) before heading to New Jersey and back.
Construction: We drove down airport road in Grand Case recently. The road is one of the best on the French side after a lot of work last year, but now there is building construction all along the road and up the hillsides. We were heading for a snorkel at Créole Rock and a lunch at Sunset Café inside the grounds of Grand Case Beach Club and we knew enough to avoid the center of Grand Case. Tour buses disgorge semi-infinite lines of cruise ship tourists at the lolos, clogging the section of the street from the center to Hibiscus Restaurant for a couple hours around noon. On the way home we headed up to Pic Paradis to make reservations at Loterie Farm. We were appalled at all the buildings running up the mountain and surprised at how lovely BJ has made his secluded valley. We talked with Julie, the chef, about the beginnings of this enterprise as BJ took over an abandoned farm, renovating some buildings, constructing others, and hacking trails through the rain forest. There is a lot more there now, but it still blends in with the natural beauty, unlike the houses heading up to the peak.
Traffic: On Sunday we scooted over to Orient via Pburg at about 11:30, just clearing the bridge opening and returned at about 4:45 easily passing through Simpson Bay between the 4:30 and 5:30 bridge openings. We had a friend try to come from Pburg to Cupecoy and then meet us for lunch in Grand Case on Friday. In 70 minutes, he had made it to Cupecoy and gave up. That evening he tried to get takeout barbecue at Johnny B's Under the Tree and return home for dinner. It took about 30 minutes longer than he expected. Traffic through Simpson Bay is brutal at lunchtime and near impossible from 4:30 until 6:30, later on Fridays. It is especially bad heading from Maho through Simpson Bay to Pburg. The other direction is usually better.
SXM Shopping: Jill Alexander was at Emilio Wilson Park for the Art in the Park event on Sunday. The good news is that we got two more of her pieces at great prices, because the bad news is that she and Kevin are leaving the island. Fredy Maurras was also there with some lovely oils of island scenes, but we especially like his sand paintings. He takes sand from local beaches and incorporates it into beach scenes. We are now the owners of a view of Saba (much like that from our balcony) with a bit of Cupecoy Beach (literally) in the foreground. He will be having a show at the town hall in Marigot from 19 February until 9 March, with an opening on Saturday 24 February at 7:00 PM.
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.
Travel: All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Note that says to the USA. You still can get here on a driver's license. You just can't get back home, although I've heard that they just make your life miserable for a while. 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! Last year there were about 1.7 million visitors to St Maarten.
Small island story: This is also related to traffic. They are doing some road work in the French lowlands and have reduced the road to one lane for several days, requiring the standard dual (and dueling) stop lights on timers. Unfortunately, the natives don't like stoplights and frequently run them. We have met two bozos who ran the light in this area and seen several others run the light. This one was largely gone by Saturday evening, but be careful if you ever come to one of these traffic control systems.
Groceries: Our grocery shopping is mentioned as we describe the meals below, notably Valentine's Day.
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.
Christina Anton Hayes
SXM-INFO'S REGULAR CONTEST
Stay tuned. They'll be back soon.
|On Sunday we went for lunch at Pirate Beach Bar. The assistant chef couldn't find the conch so Martha had to have the shrimp salad rather than the conch salad. Still only $8. I had a lovely piece of grouper with a touch of Créole seasoning and a dollop of Matouk's hot sauce. The dollop required two Caribs each bringing our bill to $28. Check out the coupon on the website for a great lunch and beach chair/umbrella deal. For $8 more, we could have had all the food plus two chairs and an umbrella. That's it, $36 for a great lunch, four beers, two chairs, an umbrella, and a day on the beach. Here's a view from Pirate.|
On Tuesday we went to Mario's Bistro for a celebration with some friends who came down from Massachusetts. One of the couples has been to the island many times and wanted their first-time visitors to experience Mario's, and so, having six of us, we got a table off the water (four max at the waterfront tables and you'll need a reservation). The new visitor runs a wine shop, so I deferred to him and he started with a white Rhone wine, Crozes Hermitage ’02, Les Meysonniers, from Chapoutier (27€). Rhone reds can use about a dozen grapes and the whites can use Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, so it is generally a complex blend of interesting tastes. We tasted a bit of the white and though it will break one out of a chardonnay rut, we moved onto the Beaune Grèves 1er Cru ’01, Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus, Bouchard (78€) with our appetizer of foie gras ravioli and quail on a bed of greens - lots of interesting tastes and textures and it was great with the six year old Burgundy. I am in a rut and as Mario was serving the pork tenderloin wrapped in crisp, smoky bacon, I had it again. Martha reprised the tuna, one of the recipes we put into the article we wrote for St Maarten Events. It's a sushi grade slice of tuna, lightly seared, topped with bleu cheese, holding down a bed of feather-light gnocchi with a slightly spicy tomato sauce. Both were fine with Beaune and as that was quickly drained, we moved on to a Mercurey 1er Cru Sazenay ’01, Château de Mercey (35€). With a few desserts, coffees, and after-dinner drinks, we had a most satisfying dinner for about $170 per couple, not cheap, but this wasn't a crowd that denied itself vinous pleasures.
For Valentine's Day we went to our friends apartment at Rainbow Beach and prepared our own dinner. We brought a Deutz champagne from Select Wine Cellar and duck breasts from US Imports Supermarché. Our hosts had bought some grouper at SkipJack's and added a bottle of much too young Corton-Charlemagne. We started with a Champagne toast, moved on to grouper with a powerful Corton, followed by duck breast with a 2002 Pommard Premier Cru Epenots from Philipsburg Liquors. As our article in St Maarten Events showed, it is possible to get food and wine quite similar to that in restaurants and prepare it at home.
On Thursday evening, we arrived 24 hours early for our waterfront table at Le Tastevin, one of the prettiest waterfront restaurants in Grand Case. Xavier, the former maitre'd, has returned to France, and while I wouldn't wish working on anyone, it is nice to have José and Christine back at the restaurant. Two more knowledgeable and courteous hosts are hard to find. He did, however, point out that I was a day early, but he could accommodate us. We were led to a table and started with water as we perused the menu and wine list. The 2001 Champy Volnay Premier Cru Caillerets (74€) seemed pretty good and that choice was finalized when I heard Christine describing a special of pork tenderloin with foie gras and asparagus to the table next to us. Our ap was also chosen based on a good Burgundy: a salad of chicory and frisee with smoked duck breast, dates, pecans, and roasted goat cheese (14€). Martha choose an organic chicken breast with black chanterelle mushrooms in a sauce made from peas. The French call the black chanterelles Trompet de la Mort, a reference to their black funnel-like shape, not their gastronomic effects, one hopes. We raise chickens, free range, not organic and have black chanterelles on the property, so we look forward to a dish similar to this every spring. The wine and some nice rolls with exquisite French butter arrived, followed by an amuse bouche of artichoke soup, that was simplicity, seemingly just salt, cream, and artichoke, smooth and tasty with some chunky artichoke bits for added interest. The wine was quite good, six years had smoothed out the rough spots, but there was still a bit of fruit at the start, probably several years left. The ap arrived with the chevre on toasted baguette slices for an additional bit of crunch. A few years ago everybody on the island was using smoked duck breast and I was quite pleased. The craze seems to have passed, but this dense and flavorful meat is quite welcome in any salad of mine. The flavors play off the wine, the pecans and toast add crunch, and the sweet dates are always helpful with game (and smoked duck breast is quite close to game). Our dinners did not feature quite as many tastes and textures but were quite good and wonderful with the wine. We finished with espresso and Armagnac, disposing of the better part of two hundred dollar bills.
We had a quick snork at Créole Rock and a lunch at Sunset Café on Friday. Unfortunately, the weather in the northeast was not so hot (literally), but it was deep. One of the secrets of Sunset Café's mussels (and Mario's Bistro) is Prince Edward Island mussels. Unfortunately, they rarely swim and surely don't get here on their own. When the planes are grounded in three feet of snow, the mussels don't go (apologies to the late Johnnie Cochran). Alas, we missed a shot at the best mussels in white wine and ??? on the island. Yes, there are some secrets that we can't get out of Pascal, but Mario has put his secrets for moules marinara in his cookbook. Consequently, we started with a bottle of water and got out of our Rosé rut with a wonderful Rully ($40). It's a white wine from southern Burgundy that doesn't enjoy a great (and expensive) reputation. It is perfectly good, esp with fish. We started with an ap of calamari and shrimp on a bed of lettuce with onion, peppers, and tartar sauce. Fried and very bad for you, but goood! As the mussels hadn't arrived, we had salads: smoked fish and seafood. We've had these before and they were great with the Rully. More to the point, we knew we would not be having the mussels, so we ordered the Rully in anticipation of fish-enhanced salads. As usual, the view was spectacular - it has been a great week, calm seas, little wind, random showers, but no steady rain. This is a great spot to be on such days and if you like to snorkel, it is a lovely outing: snorkel before lunch, have a great lunch, use dollars to get one to one on the exchange and use the snorkel coupon to get beach chairs for the afternoon.
Friday night was barbecue from Johnny B's Under the Tree. We're not big fans of Caribbean lobster. When we can get Maine lobster for $7-8 per pound at the local Price Chopper in NY and have them steam it, it seems extravagant to pay $20 to $30 per pound to have somebody grill an inferior (in taste and texture) lobster here. So we eschewed lobster in favor of a ribs and chicken combo. We drive through the southern US and marvel at the changes in barbecue from state to state. In the north barbecue mostly means throwing something on a grill (usually propane, but when the charcoal is started with hydrocarbon distillates, I'd prefer propane). As one heads south, there is a switch to wood or charcoal and the meat is sometimes marinated, most times slathered with sauce as it cooks, and frequently more sauce is presented as you dine. The sauce, the wood or charcoal, and even the meat will change as you drive along, as it should. Eat local and slow. In this case the chicken was good, the ribs were OK, the salad our hosts made was considerably better than the bog standard lettuce and tomatoes supplied by Johnny, and the potato salad had beets as its attempt at making a difference. I had a friend who added rather expensive store-bought tortellini to his chili and claimed it was a vast improvement. Possibly, but it wasn't chili, although, like barbecue, chili changes with the location. But I digress, we miss Texas Pit BBQ, whose sauce was declared top notch by none other than James Beard and we think Lido's potato gratin was fab.
On Saturday we went back to Mario's Bistro for a final dinner with our friends from Massachusetts. It is their favorite restaurant. This evening we denied ourselves some greater vinous pleasures and chose the 2002 Auxey-Duresses from Champy (only 34€). It's a fine wine, not as smooth, as full, or as long as the Beaune Grèves 1er Cru ’01, Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus which costs over twice as much. We started with an arugula salad from the menu and a special of asparagus with roasted goat cheese and crisp Serrano ham - three distinct textures and three distinct flavors in one great dish. We swapped around the dinners at our earlier dinner as Martha had the bouillabaisse and I had the tuna topped with bleu cheese on gnocchi with a spicy tomato sauce. One of our friends had the tuna and the other had the tilapia with a West Indian crab crust. The bouillabaisse is Mario's variation, using considerably more varieties of seafood including king crab legs, lobster, etc. It is also more than enough for one person. When our friends had it on their last visit, they took home quite a bit and certainly it was more than a match for Martha, despite my help. So it will be today's lunch. Don't be bashful about taking home a "doggie bag", esp at Mario's. Martyne ordered some quite smart square bags with the Mario's logo to hold the styro containers. This evening we had a second bottle of the same wine and kept the bill under $150 per couple, with a bit of a tip added for great service.
Changes: The Airport Inn and its restaurant, Tastee's (I think) is now called Bada Bing! and is advertised as an adult club. I wonder what they are doing with the rooms. The place that was Little France in Grand Case now has a sign up that says "Spicy". Ti Bouchon now takes credit cards, but you should take cash to get the one to one exchange. If you use the credit card, Momo will give you a decent exchange rate and charge your card in dollars, saving you the 3% foreign exchange fee that most cards charge.
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.
Friday night sushi and happy hour (from 4 till 6 PM) is still happening at Halsey's Restaurant. We had a great time when last we were there.
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. The easiest free welcome champagne cocktail from Auberge Gourmande, Montmartre, and Sunset Café is no longer available, but 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 offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.