St Maarten/St Martin
SXM-Beaches: On Monday rollers started hitting Cupecoy from the SE and came over to the SW by Tuesday. Wendy K says there is no usable beach at the NW end of Cupecoy and getting into Mullet was dicey. Sapphire also had no beach. The surfers were out on Tuesday evening, the rollers had subsided by Wednesday morning, but started up again as the sun came out. We saw spray rising up off Mullet as we drove to Marci's Mega Gym 2000 for our morning workout and Wendy K says she didn't even bother stopping there, but drove over to Orient where there was a nice breeze, fairly large [for Orient] waves, quite a bit of seaweed close to Club Orient, and lots of cruise ship people. Kakao Beach and Bikini Beach both had 5/6 rows of chairs out, the majority of which were filled. We walked the beach and checked out the menu at Kokomarina. [Ed note: it's a subset of the menu at California Restaurant. Marina is the daughter of Alain and Zuzu who used to run California. Marina and her boyfriend, Koko, are providing some of the dishes here on the beach.] By the end of the day, the rollers on Cupecoy were among the largest we have seen and certainly thrilled a major throng of surfer dudes. On Thursday, Wendy K reported that Cupecoy was still too rough. The sand is back at the middle beach with the dock and monolith, but waves are coming up to the stairs. There was a surfer dude doing his thing at Mullet, as well as some crazy people letting themselves be pummeled by the surf. By Friday there were fairly gentle swells with some dry sand at the little cove or "baby crescent" beach and wet sand at the monolith with minimal sand and a pond at the big beach at the NW end. We went over on Saturday and had a delightful afternoon in the cove - light winds, some small waves, lots of sun in a clear sky, ending in the tiniest of green flashes.
Beach Reading: I just finished Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle, of A Year in Provence fame. This one is fiction, based in Provence, and quite amusing. It concerns an ad company owner's forsaking of his agency to turn an abandoned gendarmerie into a hotel in Provence.
Construction: The Cove at Cupecoy has built an observation tower on the lagoonfront and placed flags at the location of the various buildings they hope to construct. It has become obvious that the underground parts of the Arenas project in Cupecoy will be sorely needed parking. We've also heard that a supermarket will be there. We've seen no action at Caravanserai. Another friend has closed and moved into his unit at Rainbow. The Cliff is going ahead, but I don't think anyone is in there yet.
Traffic: We made it over to Pburg at noon on Thursday with no trouble and even found a parking spot on the street. However, next weekend is the Heineken Regatta. That means extra people driving through Simpson Bay, but also extra boats pushing the bridge up! It's great fun to watch, but it is crowded.
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.
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!
Airlines: The Daily Herald recently had a front page story about how one airline had notified the local airline authority that another airline was selling tickets below cost. It had all the usual blather about how this was not in consumer's best interest: once the evil-doers capture market share and drive the high-priced good guys out of business, they will raise prices. In addition, there's safety considerations as even the good guys might be tempted cut back a bit if locked in a battle for market share. The front page also had a teaser saying that Spirit was coming to the island and directing you to page three for details, where we learned about all the advantages of having a low cost airline coming to the island. Possibly this should go in the next section.
Small island story: We left our condo at Sapphire on Sunday morning and the cell phone started buzzing in my pocket - always a thrill. It's legal to talk and drive on the Dutch side so I answered and found myself talking to King Bob, previously of Sapphire karaoke fame (notoriety?). By day he works selling real estate for Century 21 out of the container at Atlantis Casino. By night, he and a buddy (David) are Cover too Cover, covering tunes of the previous mellennia. The small island part is that as I answered the phone, I was in front of his "office". However, he wasn't there. He was at the airport. In about three minutes we were driving by the airport and had to stop for him as he walked across the crosswalk.
Large Island Story: A short time ago Jeff Berger had a bit about dining at Bajatzu in Maho. He complained that the ventilation was such that the smoking section overpowered the non-smoking section and advised eating on the porch, in the fresh air. That's probably good advice, allowing for the prevailing wind patterns and the location of pollution sources, but this island is so large that there are two countries here with two sets of laws. France (and the French side is France) has passed a law banning indoor smoking in public places. It applies on Saint Martin and while what is indoors in a climate where there are few doors and almost no windows is debatable, it appears that if you are under a roof, then there is no smoking even in an open air place. Awnings are problematic. We dined at Chanteclair in Marigot's Marina Royale Complex on Saturday night, requesting a table on the deck. Space is tight and our neighbors were 12 inches away, with a tiny serving table in between our tables. She placed the ash tray on the serving table making it equidistant from both our noses. The prevailing wind was such that I enjoyed the aroma of her cigarette rather than my rather expensive meal. On the French side, dining inside is now the safer option. Note that the law is only France, not the EU or the Netherlands, but that wouldn't matter because the Dutch side is (currently) the Netherlands Antilles and manages its own internal affairs.
Groceries: We took some Brillat-Savarin to Wendy K's for drinks on Sunday evening. They were having a special on one of the world's best cheeses at US Imports, so I picked some up. In his Cheese Primer, Steven Jenkins advises to eat this cheese as fresh as possible, making our daily Air France arrivals quite helpful. It is a soft triple-cream cheese approaching 75% butterfat content, as am I.
We found some absinthe at the Grand Marché in Cole Bay. It is made from a distillation of macerated green anise, florence fennel and grande wormwood, often called the 'holy trinity', with the possible addition of smaller amounts of many other herbs, such as hyssop, melissa, star anise and petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood). Various recipes also include angelica root, Sweet Flag, dittany leaves, coriander, veronica, juniper, nutmeg, and various mountain herbs. Undistilled wormwood essential oil contains a substance called thujone, which is a convulsant and can cause renal failure in extremely high doses, and the supposed ill effects of the drink were blamed on that substance in 19th century studies. It was outlawed around 1900 in most of the world, with the notable exception of the UK. You may remember that the temperance movement was gathering strength at that time and all alcohol was banned in the US shortly after that. The lack of a ban in the UK led to its reintroduction and the European Union's attempts to have consistent laws have lead to its reintroduction throughout most of Europe. Down here in SXM, we are essentially Europe, so here it is. Tastes like Pastis to me and Martha says I'm not any worse than usual.
Not exactly groceries, but the Belgian Chocolate Box (originally on Old Street in Pburg) has opened an outpost in Simpson Bay in the old DeWine store across from Windward Islands Bank. They have some divine chocolates and will pack 16 of them into a box for $15 - sinfully delicious.
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.
I just updated L'Escapade Restaurant's wine list. Other than La Samanna which has an underground wine cellar, I think Escapade has the largest list on the island, although I have not been to La Santal in years. I won't tell you that Ch Petrus is cheap, but if you want it, they have it, and dozens more of that ilk, with an especially good section of Burgundy, my favorite ilk.
While we were at Mario's Bistro last week, Mario told us that he, Cecile from Chanteclair, and Dino from Dare to be Rare and Temptation Restaurant will be going to New York to cook at Daniel for a kickoff celebration for a new American Airlines flight to SXM. I frequently get asked about my favorite restaurants. Certainly, if these were good enough Chef Boulud, I think I would have to concur in his selections. Moreover these three (and some others) frequently represent the island in various cooking competitions, and they do quite well. But, these are restaurants for people who are serious about food (and wine) and have serious money to spend. If you get a bottle of wine commensurate with the quality of the food in these restaurants and have a three course meal (ap, main, and dessert with coffee) you will spend $200 per couple. If you don't live near a large city, it will be the best meal you will have in a long time. Dino's emporiums certainly are fitted out to a fare-the-well, although the views they have are man-made. The other two are on water, but a canal (Mario) and a marina (Cecile).
On Sunday we went to Wendy K's for drinks and tapas. I took the 2002 Beaune de Chateau available at Grand Vins de France, but we worked through Girard's white Savigny Les Beaune first and then tasted the Beaune against the red version of Girard's Savigny Les Beaune. Girard's wines came from Select Wine Cellar. The white was our house white last winter, but they have been out of it, causing us to switch to Tremblay's Chablis. I hate it when Wendy finds wine before I do. I just hope she didn't buy all of it! She said her bleu cheese (which was real Roquefort) came from US Imports, as did the Brillat-Savarin that I brought.
On Monday Martha had a dental appointment in Bellvue on the outskirts of Marigot as one heads toward Cole Bay. In fact, she had an appointment the week before and I passed an hour or two at Saint Séverin Restaurant. I opened my computer, found an unsecured wireless router, and was chatting with my tenant back in NY who told me about the three feet of snow that they had. She even sent some photos that the waitress and I found most disgusting. I ordered espresso and as the morning progressed, a glass of white wine. They were quite happy to have me there taking up a table. Today, Monday, St Severin was closed so I walked over to Chez Bernadette and René, the Boucherie. Same story, different router, but this time I ordered a cheese plate (including St Nectaire, reblochon, tome noire, mariolles, a small bit of paté de foie gras, and more) with a glass (that turned into a bottle) of red wine. Martha returned and had a glass of white wine with the remaining cheese. I passed three hours and received several emails, a couple of which brought me money, and no, I have not won the Nigerian lottery yet again, but it is an amazing world that we live in. I doubt that René knows much about the internet café portion of his business, but he know quite a bit about meat, cheese, and wine. Total cost $50.
On Tuesday evening, we went over to Marigot and strolled through the shops before settling down for predinner drinks at Bali Bar in the Marina Royale Complex. They are located in an outrageously tarted up tent with extravagant furniture, tapestries, and art work. Drinks are a specialty, mojitos, tropicals, etc, but we just had a Campari and soda and a white wine. Nonetheless, we were brought some curry fish spread with several crisp toast slices as we settled into the open air table on the boardwalk - a most civilized way to work up an appetite. Bali Bar has plenty of tapas and several themed plates (Spanish, Asian, fajitas), but Martha was keen to head back to Belle Epoque Restaurant for dinner. This restaurant has been at this location since 1990. The menu suggests that it has had the same owner throughout, and I can attest to the last dozen of those years. It's not fancy, either in physical plant or in the food. It is more like a brasserie, no tablecloths, no linen, good fast service, good food, without a lot of loft on the plates, no foie gras or truffles, and great prices. Despite the fast service, there is no rush to get you out. We've lingered over wine or after dinner rum as waiters swirled around us. Given our appetizer earlier, we just had two main courses. Martha had her favorite tuna steak with anchoïade, a mixture of finely chopped aromatic veg, anchovies, and olive oil (16€). It came with a tasty ratatouille and a purée of local squash, also quite tasty. I had a pizza reine with ham and mushrooms and plenty of hot oil (12€). With the closing of Hot Tomatoes wood-fired pizza oven, this is my favorite pizza. Martha had a half bottle of Chablis (16€) with her fish and I had a pitcher of Bordeaux (12€) with my spicy pizza. Our bill arrived requesting $73, a reasonable exchange rate. One of our favorite aps here is the steak tartare with crisp fries, although we have never had a bad meal here, so have whatever you like, but check the specials board.
On Wednesday we went to Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case, parking in the central lot for a short walk to the restaurant. We started with the 2001 Crozes-Hermitage from Jaboulet. As they are doing 1 to 1 for cash, it is only $49, a very good price. (I found it for $50 St Martin's Bistro, unfortunately in Dallas, TX.) Our starter was the baked goat cheese, Roquefort, and pecans in phyllo dough with baked apple on endive on a bed of spinach leaves and other greens with a bit of balsamic dressing. We've had this before and the many flavors and textures make this a wonderful dish. Our dinner was an experiment. I had the tenderloin of duck breast roasted and served on a bed of flambéed pineapple with a sweet and sour shallot, honey, and lime sauce and Martha had a duck chop special with a mango topping. The duck chop is contrived by chopping the breast and wing off the carcass, leaving a piece of meat that looks something like a veal chop. Physiologically, there is no similarity between chops from mammals and the breast of a bird, but the visual conceit is amusing. As both dishes were essentially duck breast, they both had a slightly sweet fruit sauce that is always appreciated with game, and a good duck has the taste and texture of game. The rest of the two plates was an identical assemblage of tasty braised endive, olive smashed potatoes, green and yellow beans, broiled tomatoes, and broccoli florettes. We liked the menu version better, if only because it really was the tenderloin of the duck breast and a bit more tender. We intended to bring a bit of the "chop" home and subject it to further experimentation at lunch. We were thinking duck breast quesadillas, duck breast pizza, and duck breast salads. We ended with Armagnac and espresso watching the world go by from the lovely terrace. Alas, we got to talking to some of the world going by and left the duck behind. Dinner, as usual was great, service superb, and the sights from the porch amusing. If you are counting, we split a bottle of wine, giving each of us 2.5 drinks and added a glass of Armagnac for 3.5 drinks over 2 hours, leaving about 1.5 drinks as each hour metabolizes one drink. 1.5 drinks should be a BAC of 0.03, well under the 0.05 limit in France. All this for a 150 pound male. Those of us who are larger can drink a bit more.
While we were in Grand Case, Wendy K was at Marrakech Restaurant in Marigot. Carnival is sort of over on Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday), but everything is slow down here, so they burn King Momo on Wednesday which requires a parade that passed in front of the restaurant when she arrived. Fortunately, she'd found parking on Rue de la Republique, and the parade soon moved along. She reports: "We had a long chat with Toufiq and ordered dinner from the lounge before moving to our table. We split a pastilla as an appetizer, I had brique (a kind of omelet with fresh tuna, and Tony had a lamb and eggplant tajine. Everything yummy." [Ed note: as always!]
On Thursday we headed over to Antoine Restaurant for lunch. The dining room is lovely and the view across Great Bay off to the Divi peninsula is spectacular. The sailboats flit across the bay and the Segway human transporters glide up and down the boardwalk. Antoine's has a smaller, lower priced lunch menu, but all the dinner items are available, if for instance, you wanted their lobster thermidor, best on the island per the paper of record (the NY Times). The wine list is quite long and has several half bottles. We went with salads off the lunch menu, a Niçoise and a chicken. We added a bottle of Pellegrino water and a bottle of Lacoste's Rosé d'une Nuit and spent a couple hours chatting with Jean-Pierre. They add a 15% tip to the bill, clearly marked on the menu, and our total was a bit over $50 for a lovely lunch.
We headed off to Chulani's Seiko House and bought a Canon Powershot S3 for $330. That was about $20 less than the best price I found on the internet where I would have had to pay sales tax and shipping. We were so excited that we spent our savings on a couple glasses of Argentine chardonnay at L'Escargot Restaurant. If you have never been there, it is worth a glass (or two) of wine just to see the interior and talk with Joel. Lunches are good, too, but the Friday cabaret show is quite a hoot. The website will give you an idea about the show.
|We headed home via the Cakehouse shortcut, landing us in Cole Bay headed toward Select Wine Cellar. The sign announcing "Wine tasting today" was out and the car stopped automatically. Actually, we wanted to get some of Girard's white Savigny-les-Beaune and some cognac and planned a visit. We ended up buying the Burgundy and some very nice Cognac Tesseron at a very good price. Then again, we bought all Sylvain had in stock, but you can stop in for a wine tasting. If you find some Tesseron, buy it. We thought we would take some home, but after tasting it, I don't think it will last very long. We bumped into the owners of Stargazer, private yacht charter. We don't know much about the yacht, but they have good wine! That's not Stargazer, but Capt Morgan Day Charters sailing past our condo. I can recognize Tiki in the bow with my new 12x zoom.|
We stopped at SkipJack's for a chat with Brad and some dinner. Yvan offered mussels and swordfish as the freshest seafood on offer. We had met two friends in the bar so we split a dinner order of mussels in white wine and cream. Very good, rivaling those of Sunset Café. Our dinners were three of the swordfish and one salmon with wasabi. The sword was fantastic, fresh and firm, with a nice Créole sauce. Choose your starch. We took baked potatoes, and took one home with quite a bit of swordfish. Our dinner with a nice bottle of red cost less than $100 and made a rather nice lunch later. The physical plant is nice and new, the view of the megayachts in the lagoon is great, and the food is good, not terribly fancy, but good and lots of it.
On Saturday evening we went to Chanteclair in Marigot's Marina Royale Complex. We had made reservations as we walked by on Tuesday and arrived on time for our 9PM seating. After a few minutes of consternation, the only available table, a four-top on the deck was separated into two deuces about 12 inches apart and we got the downwind one. Menus were delivered, we asked about specials and were directed to an entire page with two aps and four fish and two meat main courses (a rack of lamb and a veal chop). Water was ordered, delivered, and wine was ordered. The maitress'd arrived and announced that the two meat specials that I was contemplating had already been similarly contemplated, and then plated earlier in the evening making them no longer available. This set deliberations back slightly, but the menu has several fine dishes and we quickly regrouped. Our ap was the tuna carpaccio fanned into a circle, topped with a mound of wakame seaweed, and accompanied by some very crispy homemade bread held aloft by an extremely light wasabi cream (13€). The tuna was top quality melt-in-your-mouth texture and very nice with the crunchy seaweed, but the extra flavor and smooth mouth feel from the wasabi cream was very nice. Add an even bigger crunch from the bread and you have one of the reasons Cecile is one of the top-rated chefs on the island. We chose the 2002 Beaune du Chateau from Bouchard (51€, a 3x mark-up) and it was wonderful with this dish. The wasabi was not so overpowering that a Zinfandel or Sauvignon Blanc (or beer!) would have been better. The wine also went well with Martha's breast of baby chicken and my veal parmentier. We believe that Martha's dish was a half breast of Cornish game hen with a slice of foie gras on a ravioli of diced young veg in a chicken broth with minced truffle (26€). It looked very small (with one asparagus spear and one bit of carrot) in the oversized platter that was delivered and given that Martha finished it, there was not much there. Possibly Martha's appetite improved when she announced that the truffle-infused broth really made this dish. Parmentier was a French Army officer who subsisted on potatoes while he was imprisoned in Hamburg, Germany during the Seven Years War. Upon his release, he convinced Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to try them and they soon spread to the rest of the population. Now, anything with potatoes, esp when something is immersed in mashed potatoes, can be called a parmentier. In this case, the menu called for shredded veal (the French claimed veal cheeks) with mashed potatoes and a crispy nem (fried filo dough) containing sweetbreads, roasted shallots, candied garlic, and spring onion (26€ on the menu, although we were charged 29€, which I think was the price of the veal chop special). The veal cheeks arrived whole on smashed potatoes and the nem was of epic proportions. Had I ordered just that, I would have had enough. It was all good, with many flavors and textures, moreover, it was good with the wine. We declined desserts and ordered espresso which arrived promptly, quickly followed by the bill without so much as a hint as to after dinner drinks. We took the hint and put two hundred dollar bills in the folder. After being rushed through the meal, up to and including the presentation of the unbidden bill, we waited about 15 minutes for our change!?!
Changes: You've missed your chance to dine at Long Bo and Great Wall Chinese restaurants in Sandy Ground. They were closed by the Immigration (for undocumented workers) and Veterinary (for hygienic) departments on the French side. I asked if the Veterinary department handles all Chinese restaurants on the French side and Martha explained that the full title is the Hygiene and Veterinary Department. Thus, they handle all restaurants, not just the Chinese variety. In the Marina Royale Complex, Mambo Sushi is being worked on and Lafayette, serving French bistro fare, is open again after renovation, most unusual. Gecko, serving tapas, has opened next to that. On the other side Bonnardo's is now David's and Phuket has become Red Rouge, serving French bistro food.
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. We're going on 20 March.
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.