St Maarten/St Martin
Weather: Sunday was a lovely day, still so hazy that we can't see Saba but plenty of blue sky. On Tuesday morning there was not a breath of air and it was totally overcast, almost a gray-out, making it difficult to tell where the gray of the sky meets the gray of the dead-flat water. By late afternoon, the tradewinds had picked up, the lagoon had whitecaps, and the temperature had dropped to the low 70's. The evening ended with sprinkles but the next day had patches of blue sky. By Thursday we were deep in the gloom, Saba was usually lost in rain squalls and downtown Marigot flooded. Friday started with a peek at Saba and rain showers that continued until noon. After that, it finally cleared up. Saturday arrived with high, thin, cirrus clouds, but a lot of haze such that Saba was gone again. The Daily Herald reported that the Montserrat volcano about 100 miles to the southeast had been sending out plumes of ash for over a week. Sunday morning provided a very hazy view to the south with total cloud cover. The good news is Marigot to the north and east, looked better. The bad news is the wind is coming from the south.
To the right are two indications of how hazy and cloudy it has been. The bottom photos were taken on Sunday from marigot as we returned from Orient Beach. The first was from the turnout near the West Indies Mall and the second were taken from the waterfront road bejhind the cemetary, looking over toward the old, and defunct, Belle Creole.
Sunset will be at 6:20PM on Sunday. Full moon dates for 2007 are: Apr 2, May 2, May 31, Jun 30, Jul 29, Aug 28, Sep 26, Oct 26, Nov 24, and Dec 23. May 31 will be a blue moon, the second full moon in a month. Note that these are full moon dates for the Caribbean. A full moon occurs at an exact instant when the moon is opposite the sun with the earth in the middle. This happens at 24 different times in the 24 different time zones, some on each side of midnight, leading to European, American, and Asian calendars sometimes having different dates for full moons and, rarely, different months for blue moons.
|SXM-Beaches: Orient still has lots of sand and on Sunday it had lots of people. We got the last two chairs at Pedro's Beach Bar and Terry brought us an umbrella. Lots of fish out on the reef. On Monday Wendy K's Cupecoy report says "Water somewhat choppy for swimming, but no problems getting in and out. Plenty of sand at the big beach." On Wednesday she went to Cupecoy and exited via a mad dash through the raindrops. The sea was much calmer than expected, given how choppy the lagoon was. The current is moving the sand toward the middle beach, but there's still plenty of sand at the big beach. We went over on Friday after the rain stopped and spent a lovely afternoon on a small amount of sand in the little cove at Cupecoy. Saturday was another fine day at an even smaller crescent. That's Cupecoy on the left and Cliffhanger on the right.|
Beach Reading: Started on Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen - $16.35 hardcover - It's interesting so far. Must be new as it is only available in hardcover.
Construction: Pharos in Cupecoy grows taller and there is action at Shore Pointe but there isn't much action at Cupecoy Yacht Club.
Military exercises: Anyone here over the last week or so has noticed a lot of young lads in military camo uniforms, painted faces, and large rifles. They frequently hang out on street corners in the most unlikely places, drive about in jeeps, or fly over in planes. this started out as a joint exercise of the French and Dutch. It has now expanded to include Columbia, Argentina, and Mexico. Their fantasy scenario this year was that drug lords have taken over the island and riots have broken out. That is their stealth plane on the right.
Traffic: It took us 20 minutes to get from Sapphire to the bridge on Tuesday morning at 11:10, just making it ahead of the 11:30 bridge. It's a 5-10 minute drive, IF you don't get stopped in traffic backed up to the Airport! I could have used one of the many helicopters flying around here.
Changed Traffic Pattern: This is important and this time I got it right (or left) thanks to alert reader Michael Slade. When you enter the center of Grand Case, you can no longer turn right 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 left (this is the part that was wrong) 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.
Sapphire Beach Club: Sapphire is in the process of wiring the units for wireless internet. Now that sounds strange, but actually, they are running wires through the common areas to the lobbies on the various floors. At that point, routers broadcast signals to each unit on a secure channel. I'm sure that high priced billing per minute will soon be available, but on Wednesday, the only thing working is an unsecured (ie, free) channel in the main lobby. By Friday, all the secure connections for the individual rooms were unsecure and I could log onto the system from nearby rooms.
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!
Fire: There was a massive fire in Cay Bay on Monday that destroyed about 15 homes and left at least 81 persons homeless. It was one of the biggest and most disastrous fires in the Cay Bay area, an area known for its densely packed Texture-1-11 plywood shacks. The area has been devastated by fire at least twice before in the last two years.
Groceries: With company coming on Thursday, we did a major shop for cheese at US Imports, buying Epoisses, Livarot, and Chaource. According to Jenkins in his Cheese Primer Epoisses from Burgundy is his favorite cheese and should be drunk with any big red Burgundy, Livarot from Normandy is the next best thing to raw milk Camembert and should be drunk with big red Burgundies or Calvados from Normandy, and Chaource from the Champagne region is unsurpassedly scrumptious to be drunk with Champagne. Needless to say, we intend to follow his advice.
We also picked up two duck breasts at about a pound each, costing about $13 each. They are very easy to cook. Just remove the silver skin, cover with coarse salt and cracked pepper and leave in the refrigerator overnight. Score the fat and cook in a pan on top of the stove, pouring off the fat as it runs out. Slice and serve. We generally add some mushrooms with onions and shallots, possibly in a cream sauce. Add veg and potatoes as you wish. Our ap was the smoked salmon from Bistrot Caraïbes, still my favorite. We took a platter made by Cecile Pettreluzzi over to BC and asked Amaury to fill it up. Add Deutz Champagne from Select Wine Cellar for a wonderful start to the meal. With the duck, we had a magnum of 2000 Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes also from Select Wine Cellar and a bottle of 2002 Pommard Epenots Premier Cru from Francois at Philipsburg Liquors. While I think that we are special, Amaury says he would be happy make a smoked salmon platter for anyone. An advance phone call would be helpful and you should bring your own plate. He will supply the crisp and mild onion slices and capers.
As our article in St Maarten Events said, you can do some pretty amazing dishes in your condo.
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
Horny Toad Guesthouse -
seven low season nights for the price of four
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant - $100 plus limo ride
L'Esperance Car Rental - $50 off a week's car rental
SkipJack's - $50 off your bill
13 May to 5 August
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant - $100 plus limo ride
SkipJack's - $50 off your bill
Alizes Car Rental - $50 off a low season weekly rental
Bikini Beach - A DAY AT THE BEACH
(including 2 chairs and a parasol, 2 welcome punches and $50.00 credit towards food and drink)
5 August to 4 Nov
Azure Guesthouse - seven nights for the price of four
Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant - $100 plus limo ride
Bistrot Caraïbes - $100 off a dinner for two
Restaurant du Soleil - $50 off a dinner for two
Pack Light Rentals - Your choice: 2 chairs and 1 umbrella for a week or
one free cell phone rental for a week or
free snorkel gear for 2 for a week
On Sunday we went to Paradise View Restaurant high on Hope Hill for a fabulous view of all of Orient Bay, the close islands, and St Barts, and eventually, we had some of Claudette Davis's local buffet. There was a green salad with tomatoes and a vinaigrette to start, followed by barbecued ribs, stewed chicken, and pan-sautéed snapper accompanied by fried plantains, rice and pigeon peas, and mixed veg. The stewed chicken was my favorite - fall off the bone tender and infused with all the flavors in the stewing liquid. Dessert was a tasty bit of bread pudding. Add some drinks and you can't go wrong for an all you can eat Sunday lunch buffet.
On Monday we had another fabulous meal at Mario's Bistro. We were a table of seven and the restaurant has several large round tables to accommodate parties of this size. You don't get a waterfront seat, but you do get plenty of room and the ability to chat with anybody at the table. There was a special ap of a jumbo shrimp (an oxymoron if ever there was one), slightly spicy, with some string veg and a bit of polenta topped with diced veg. The shrimp was probably three count, as in three to the pound, or approximately a six ounce bruiser. The dish looked lovely and tasted as good as it looked. We had two of these spread around the table and a couple salads. Our dinners ranged over the entire menu. One of our tablemates took the pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon, one of my favorites. Martha had the crispy half duck glazed with honey garlic accompanied by a roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a sweet and sour sauce with ginger. There was an order of the baked tilapia and the Chilean sea bass with a portobello mushroom, both specials. I took the seared sashimi-grade tuna on a bed of gnocchi in a slightly spicy tomato sauce topped with bleu cheese. This is one of the recipes we featured in the article we wrote in St Maarten Events. We started with Drouhin's 2004 Chablis (about $48) and moved on to the 2001 Mercurey Premiere Cru from Château de Mercey (about $45). The Chablis was quite crisp and was great with the shrimp ap and the white fish in the delicate sauces, but most people went on to the Mercurey which is aging quite well. The 2001 vintage, esp in southern Burgundy, was not highly prized but this bottle was so well received that we had to order another. I believe the wine came from Cave de Marigot where Benjamin picks winners. He aided Martyne in the production of the Mario's Bistro Cookbook by pairing wines with the dishes in three price ranges. As my esteemed tablemate, Neal; S, said "The tastes, the company, the ambiance, and the efficiency of the wait staff made this a magical experience."
On Tuesday we had a fantastic lunch at Le Champagne Snack Bar in the Orange Grove Shopping Center near the Harley Davidson place in Cole Bay. The food was good, but the fantastic part was that Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar in the same shopping center, treated us to a bottle of the 2004 Tremblay Grand Cru Vaudesir Chardonnay. We have been rotating the 2005 Trembley Chablis and the Girard Savigny les Beaune as our white house wine this season and can only wish to be able to use a Grand Cru Chablis as a house wine. The regular Chablis is crisp and young revealing the taste of the chalky Chablis soil. The Grand Cru, with an extra year in the bottle, is a smooth and large chardonnay with a hint of oak. That, however, was only the warm-up, because with our lunches of kidneys with a mustard sauce and tuna tartare, Sylvain dug a 1993 Volnay from Lafarge from his private stash. The good news is that this was the best wine of the season. The bad news is that he has no more, but he is trying to get some in the future. We had people walking over to the table, claiming they could detect the bouquet from our wine at neighboring tables. The nose was large, long, and lovely, just like mine! Lunch was also pretty good. Both came with a green salad and potatoes and cost less than $15. Photos on the site. It's a great place for a light lunch before you pick up your Harley, or some wine at Select.
On Wednesday we headed to Grand Case for a dinner at Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case, parking in the central parking lot. Mind the new traffic pattern! We had requested a corner table on the porch and it awaited. We ordered water and looked over the specials, menu, and wine list as two different types of bread arrived with good French butter. We ordered the 2001 Aloxe-Corton from Prince de Merode ($69) and found it to be superb. The age has mellowed it out but there are still hints of spice around the edges of the tongue at the finish. It may have been a bit much for our frog legs cooked in parsley butter sauce and sweet potatoes. Except for the addition of the local sweet potato purée, that is a fairly standard preparation of the rather mild flavored frog legs. Martha had the chicken breast stuffed with a blue cheese and morel mushroom sauce. I've had this before and I know it is "just chicken", which tastes like frog legs, but when it is wrapped up with blue cheese and morelles, it is a very tasty package. I also think the underlying chicken breast was a bit better than the average Perdue boneless, skinless, tasteless variety. I had the beef filet with a morelle sauce. The beef was quite flavorful and tender, prepared rare as requested. Both dishes came with a variety of accompaniments: gratin potatoes, shredded carrots and zucchini, asparagus, broiled tomato, and more. AG was voted one of the best of the Caribbean by the readers of Caribbean Travel & Life and the ambiance, service, wine list, and the cuisine are top notch.
For dinner on Friday we went to Bistrot Caraïbes in Grand Case, parking next door in the central parking lot. I hate to keep harping on this, but you will be most disappointed if you head into the center of Grand Case as you could a month ago, see Bistrot Caraïbes on your left, know that the parking lot is 50 yards to your right, and be forced to turn left, driving about a half mile to the other lot. There is even less parking on the street than last season as several residences have opened with garages leading to the street. However, you do it, this restaurant is worth visiting, especially for the seafood, but the rack of lamb is another favorite. We started with a Veuve Cliquot Champagne (72€) which had a wonderful nutty, crisp taste. We noticed that the widow (veuve) Cliquot was no longer on the metal cap. Her stern visage has been replaced with by a modern design. Nonetheless, the champagne was quite nice with the special of snails and mushrooms in a creamy, garlic sauce and not bad with another special of endive with bleu cheese on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette, although a good blue cheese could stand up to the strongest of red wines. Our dinners were the fisherman's platter, the whole French sea bass, and the red snapper in a saffron sauce. The fisherman's platter is variation on bouillabaisse, a stew of onions, tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, saffron, and herbs with fish and shellfish. In this case, it was loaded with salmon, snapper, scallops, and shrimp and came with the usual French bread and rouille. Rouille means rust in French and this sauce gets this name because of the red chili peppers that are mashed and mixed with garlic, bread crumbs, and olive oil to make it. The snapper in a creamy mussel sauce with saffron is, like the bouillabaisse, similar to a soup and came with a spoon - wonderful. The white fleshed sea bass was deboned and floated on a bed of shaved carrots and zucchini surrounded by four dollops of reduced, flavorful tomato purée and a few asparagus spears. The fish is quite tender and the veg add some needed crunch to a wonderful dish. They don't always have this dish, as it really is a French sea bass, a rather small fish. Despite the name, the Chilean sea bass is not a bass, but is a much larger grouper, and more readily available here. Our desserts were a crème brûlée and the hot chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate center accompanied by hazelnut ice cream and a coffee sauce. The cake and it's recipe were in the article that Martha and I wrote for St Maarten Events. We think it is one of the nicest desserts on the island and several restaurants do a variation of it. We ended the evening with espressos and their home-made rum, ginger in this case. Our total bill, given that they have stopped doing 1 to 1, was a bit higher than usual, but they were previously lower-priced than most restaurants. Now they are about the same. Without a $100 bottle of champagne, we would have spent about $125 per couple.
We had St Patrick's Day dinner at Horny Toad Guesthouse. All guests are invited and we get an invitation by virtue of doing their website. The many dinners at the Toad are communal affairs, organized by Betty, the head toad, who frequently supplies the main course and guests bring appetizers, accompaniments, and drinks. It's difficult to get a reservation here over the winter, but one couple, having an extra night at the end of a cruise that ended in SXM, slipped into a vacant room and found themselves in the midst of 30 people celebrating the patron saint of engineers and snake bites. As an engineer, I'm not sure I appreciate the association, but the corned beef, finished on the barbecue, was spectacular.
Changes: Spicy has opened in Grand Case serving French Cuisine for lunch and dinner in the space previously occupied by Little France. Enjoy Restaurant, also in Grand Case has been dark for a couple weeks, and I suspect it will stay that way for a while. Safari Grill has opened in La Place, the square in Orient Village serving cuisine from around the Mediterranean with the usual grilled suspects. It's in the space previously occupied by the Fish Bar.
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.