St Maarten/St Martin
SXM-Beaches: Wendy K reports that the main beach at the NW end of I used to be able to lean out on the balcony and check the sand conditions beneath Cliffhanger, but now the Rainbow Beach project has blocked the view, so I trudged down earlier this week and can report that the SE end of Cupecoy has sand.
Beach Reading: I just finished Running Blind by Lee Child, another in the Jack Reacher series. I find these amusing and a visiting friend actually raided my collection because he liked them also. Can't be all bad.
Construction: It turns out that Arenas in Cupecoy is really Pharos. The owner reused the sign for the building he put up next to the Horny Toad Guesthouse. That project was four stories of residential units near the airport. This one will have parking, a grocery store, offices, and a few floors of residences. Perhaps. Building plans and permits are always subject to change in St Maarten.
Big construction news: Caravanserai appears to have their construction permits and financing! Still no casino permit, but presumably that is a given when they have enough rooms to qualify as a resort casino rather than a stand-alone facility.
Time change: Note that the US changed time last evening, but we did not. Thus as you move forward one hour, the east coast is now the same time as SXM.
Junk cars: The first (and I hope not the last) barge full of crushed junk cars is on route to Quebec for recycling. The authorities brought in a mobile car crusher, set it up, towed them in, and crushed about 500 junkers on the island, making a bit of a dent in rust piles.
Hurricanes: The likelihood of an above-average Atlantic hurricane season is growing because a Pacific Ocean El Niño system that drove storms away from the Gulf Coast in 2006 ended in the past few weeks. Then again, meteorologists said last year's hurricane season was going to be above average, at least they said that until it turned out to be below average. By November their latest predictions for the May-November season are much more accurate.
Traffic: We made it from Cupecoy to Cost U Less on the near side of Philipsburg in 20 minutes starting at 3:40 on Thursday afternoon and back to Select Wine Cellar at about 6PM in ten minutes using the Cakehouse shortcut. That's pretty good. If you don't know about the Cakehouse shortcut and a few others, check our map.
Changed Traffic Pattern: This is important. When you enter the center of Grand Case, you can no longer turn left toward the central parking lot or head to any of the restaurants, lolos, etc in that direction. The main reason is that the road in front of the lolos was getting too crowded as a two way street. I've commented on this before, saying how we avoided it at lunchtime because mondo tour buses would bring dense packs of cruisers over for lunch, blocking the road as they unloaded and loaded up again. Thus, if you head into the center of town as usual, you will be forced to turn right and will not find another parking lot until you get to the one across from Chez Martine. In order to get to the eastern end of town or, more importantly, to park at the central parking lot, you must take the side street as you come into town and travel along the waterway to the bridge. At that point you can turn right and proceed east to Hibiscus Restaurant, Ti Coin Créole, and Sunset Café at Grand Case Beach Club. You can also turn left onto the new one way portion and go past the lolos to Il Nettuno Restaurant, Restaurant du Soleil, Blue Martini, and the parking lot that serves the center of town.
SXM Shopping: Dale James and his Cecilia have launched a new business dedicated to producing quality gifts and souvenirs for St. Maarten/St. Martin, and the Caribbean on a whole He is the designer and she does all of the sales and marketing. Their first product is a St. Maarten/St. Martin Pendant. You can check out their website. They are carried in several shops on the island, including Shipwreck, AMA Bella, Royal Caribbean Jewelers, and in local stops like Artizan's and Jimbo's restaurant in Simpson Bay.
The Friendly Island Rhythms Volume 1 is now available online on the biggest independent musicians website: CD Baby, but if you are on the island, you can find it at many shops.
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!
Groceries: We have been lunching on salads featuring the (semi) local Guadeloupe tomatoes. We find they have more flavor than the beautiful tomatoes shipped from Holland. they usually can be found at any of the supermarkets: US Imports, Grand Marche, Food Express. If we don't have a salad, we have a Guadeloupe melon. You might have to buy one and let it ripen a few days, but when it does it has lovely orange fruit that is slightly sweet and benefits greatly from a squeeze of lemon, a few slices of air-dried ham, and a glass of rosé. The melons and ham (prosciutto, serrano, or Bayonne) can be found at the same supermarkets and they usually have many rosés in the $4 to $10 category. We like the Lacoste Rosé d'Une Nuit in that category, but Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar says his ship is coming in next week, so stay tuned. Ah, St Martin, the far end of a very long, and very fragile, supply chain. See this week's small island story.
I trust no one would believe that our lunch was only a salad or a melon, so here is the second course. A crisp big of baguette warmed in the toaster oven, a bit of cheese, and some paté. Our baguettes still come from Bakery Ted, although as they have switched to wholesale only, we pick them up at US Imports. No problem as we like their cheese and paté also. We just got some Petit Billy there. Jenkins in his Cheese Primer claims it is one of the best goat cheeses in the world. If you like goat cheese, buy it. We also got some Mariolles there and Jenkins says that it is similar to Pont l'Eveque, "very smelly", and "about as subtle as a bolt of lightning - get out the clothespin." Yes, but tell us how you really feel. We rather liked it and didn't find the odor that strong.
As our article in St Maarten Events said, you can do some pretty amazing dishes in your condo.
Small island story: A friend liked a certain package of something, I forget what. She bought quite a bit on three consecutive trips to Food Center. On the fourth trip, the space on the shelf was bare. On the fifth trip, ditto, but the stock boy was nearby. She enquired about her favorite and was told "It kept selling out and we kept having to restock it, so we stopped ordering it." Food Center is no longer with us, but the attitude lives on in some places.
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 match play 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
We're working on a contest for the summer. It will have a week at the Horny Toad Guesthouse for the price of four nights. That's a bit over $400 for a week on the longest beach on the island. Nonetheless, you should have a car, so Unity Car Rental will knock $100 off their weekly rates as posted on their website. Just in case you don't get a car (and even if you do), Martin Conway, the GM of Princess Casino and owner of the adjacent Baccara Restaurant, will send one of his Bentleys to pick you up and bring you to a dinner with $50 taken off a dinner bill for two and then he'll give you $50 in match play on the gaming tables. Brad at SkipJack's will also knock $50 off a dinner bill for two and even though it is the freshest fish you will see in a long time, the $50 will cover most of your dinner.
Restaurant reviews: If you have some spare time, read Serving You Tonight Will Be Our Lawyer, an article in the NY Times about restaurants instigating libel suits over poor reviews. One of the points made is that newspapers with serious money behind them generally win any lawsuit against them, as opinion is not subject to libel. Hyperbole, such as saying the fish tasted like "old ski boots", is taken as an extravagant opinion. Even getting a fact wrong is generally taken as an honest mistake and libel will not ensue unless malice can be proved, always difficult. The average Penny Saver in the US probably has more money behind it than I do, and thus, most of the reviews here will not mention "old ski boots" nor claim that The Chateau de la Casa House's international cuisine places it "among the very worst restaurants in Christendom, serving meals of crescendoing monstrosity." If I have a truly bad experience, I write nothing. If a dish was bad, I generally ignore it. Another point made in the article is that restaurants change from day to day, if not hour to hour, another reason not to jump to wild conclusions based on one meal. At this point, Martha and I have had about 1000 meals on the island over more than a dozen years. There is hardly any restaurant that we have only been to once.
Mario of Mario's Bistro, 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 at the end of March. This is a private affair, by American Airline's invitation only.
On Sunday we flew to Puerto Rico and had a great time. Our new airport worked well. The only thing that was not working were the toll barriers on the parking lot, so it was free. No complaints here. We don't pretend to know much about an island that is 100 times the size of SXM after a two day visit, but our impressions and lots of photos have been added to our site. We intend to add short vignettes on several other islands to the SXM-Info site throughout this season and in the future, as we have generally gone off island in the middle of our winter visits. These should be of some interest to those people with some extra vacation days before or after their timeshare week(s) or those poor souls coming from the far west who must spend the night in San Juan as they fight several time zones to get here.
On Thursday we headed to Grand Case for a dinner at California Restaurant. We made reservations, asked for a waterfront table, and when we arrived, our table was waiting. It helps to ask. Alain and Zuzu have turned the Restaurant over to Vanessa and Patrick, but the facilities are much the same, possibly a bit of refurbishing in places, the menu is the same, one to one on the dollar is still the same, and the view is the same. The menu has crepes and pizzas, somewhat snack-like, but does go on to more basic dinners. The real cuisine is on the blackboard and changes frequently. There are generally two or three special aps, fish, and meat courses worthy of attention. We choose a 2002 Savigny les Beaune from Bouchard ($41) and looked for full flavored dishes to accompany it. There was an ap featuring escargot in a feuillete (puff pastry shell) with a tomato based sauce on a bed of salad greens that worked well with our wine. Our dinners were a trilogy of fresh fish (lotte or monkfish, salmon, and mahi) in a bacon sauce and a brochette of shrimp with a Créole sauce. Both were fish, generally white wine material, but the flavorful sauces were fine with a red wine. We had espressos and the complimentary glass of flavored run. Our bill came to a mere $108. That's rather inexpensive for a quality meal on the water in Grand Case. We had parked at the central parking lot and walked down as we were making and/or confirming reservations for next week at four other restaurants, but there is a parking lot closer to California. Check the map on the Grand Case site and note the changed traffic pattern!
We stopped at Le Village Restaurant in Marigot's Marina Royale for a late afternoon pick-me-up after a strenuous bit of shopping and dentistry. Nothing like a cold Stella Artois on a new filling. Actually, Stella is wonderful beer, the one I ask for first.
On Saturday night we went to L'Alabama Restaurant in Grand Case, parking in the central parking lot and taking a short stroll down to their plant filled dining room. We started with a flute of Moët Champagne and looked over the menu and wine list. There were several aps that would have been good with the Champagne: tuna sashimi, tuna tartare, and a smoked salmon roll, but Martha went with the shrimp on bed of bulgur and a few walnuts with a drizzle of a balsamic reduction and a mound of cilantro. The aps ranged from 11 to 14€. As we waited, an amuse bouche arrived: a small taste of a leek, garlic, and cream soup. The wine list is quite large with a great selection of Bordeaux and some Burgundies I wish were in my cellar. There were a half dozen from the Cote du Beaune and another half dozen from the Cote du Nuits, many of them from 1999, a year that rivaled 2002 and 2003 in the Cote du Nuit (northern Burgundy). As I have a soft spot for Musigny, we went with Clerget's 1999 Chambolle-Musigny (79€) as the perfect accompaniment for Martha's lamb tenderloin on a bed of potatoes and goat cheese with a reduction sauce (26€) and my sashimi grade tuna on a bed of vegetables drizzled with a bit of balsamic with a pesto-like sauce and topped with a mound of coriander, parsley, and chervil (25€). It all sounded good, but how was it? In a word, very good. In a few more words, the shrimp ap tasted of shrimp and had a satisfying crunch, always a bonus in these days of mushy, tasteless, farm raised seafood. The wine was splendid. At nine years old, it is reaching its peak, totally smooth with no tannic bite, just a hint of fruit, a bit of power, and some length left in the finish. It went well with my splendid, lightly seared tuna and Martha's tenderloin. We particularly liked the medley of veg under my tuna. We finished with very good decaf espressos and complimentary balloons of Armagnac. Our bill, using Alabama's 1.2 to 1 exchange rate was about $200 and they request an additional 15% tip. The crowds have thinned out at Alabama and certainly the switch from 1 to 1 on the euro to 1.2 to 1 must be part of the problem. Nonetheless, the prices are in line with the quality of the food, wine list, and service. The physical plant is as lovely as ever. One has to admire a place that devotes about 15% of its dining area to planters along two walls, something that reduces income as it increases expenses. Please remember that even though we spent over $200, half of that was on very expensive Champagne and Burgundy. The wine list is large and has many less expensive alternatives.
We strolled back to the car and met Joseph from Grand Case parking at G's Snack. Lou Lou was singing and Joseph was chatting with some friends from Vermont. This led to a round of drinks and lots more talk, a perfect way to end a warm evening in Grand Case. At 11:00PM, Lou Lou called it a night and we walked into the parking lot. The sound of reggae from the garden at Blue Martini was tempting, but this newsletter goes out early on Sunday morning.
Changes: Blue Martini has started to serve pizza. Sounds like a great thing to have when they have a band in the garden. What was Maeva Restaurant is now a shop that stays open late. Cecile Pettreluzzi has taken over the restaurant in the Petite favorite, the tiny "mall" that her family renovated in the center of Grand Case a couple years ago. It's smart looking and the name will revert back to Le Petite Café. More details as they become available. It has just opened and still has the previous name on it. We heard about this when we bumped into her at Le Grand Marché and finally saw it open on Thursday evening.
BANANAQUITS OR SUGARBIRDS
|Martha has been feeding sugarbirds and having fun with our new camera out on the balcony. On the right is your trusty scribe beavering away as she plays with her birds. OK, he's not as cute as the birds. They just love to take baths in our ashtray. I'm glad we found a use for it! The third photo actually has drops of water coming off the bird's feet as it heads up. The feet are just barely in the frame.|
BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS
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.