St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday, 30 Dec, was another spectacular day. Here's a photo taken from our roadside balcony looking north and east over the lagoon showing that the sky was blue. In the construction section (below) you can even see Anguilla beyond the ruins of Belle Creole. At sunset there is a shot with a DC-10 coming in for a landing with haze and clouds on the Caribbean to the south and west, obscuring the far away islands. The weather front to the south and west won and the last day of the year was our worst day so far, rainy and cloudy most of the day, but it did stop raining in the afternoon. There's a photo of a very cloudy sunset. The rest of the week certainly had scattered showers and was a bit cooler than normal. All this unsettled weather culminated in the sounds of crashing surf as I walked out into the kitchen on Saturday morning. When the sun finally came up, I could not only hear the crashing waves on Cupecoy, but see six foot rollers pounding the shore as tropical squalls pelted the island. Sunday morning looks considerably better.|
|Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Today's (6 Jan) sunset will be at 5:44PM. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 22 Jan, 21 Feb, 21 Mar, 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec.|
SXM-Beaches: Last week I said that the lot(s) of Cupecoy Villages are unsold and the sales office is closed, and the lots are still undeveloped. This is based on looking out my window at the undeveloped land and at the sign showing unsold lots in the now-defunct sales office. The point was that there is still plenty of open land to be used to access Cupecoy Beach up at the NW clothing-optional end.
Friday at Orient revealed plenty of beach in front of Pirate Beach Bar and the parasailing boats were out. Early on Saturday morning, we drove to Marci's Mega Gym and saw pretty big waves hitting Mullet and the road to Beacon Hill past Maho Beach was quite moist. When we returned to our unit, we could see surfers out at Cupecoy (right photo shows the waves, but no surfers). That evening at dinner we were treated with the white noise of crashing surf in Grand Case as we dined. The waves were lapping the foundation at L'Escapade Restaurant.
If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.
Activities: A motorcycle rally went by last Sunday. They have them here every once in a while, usually to raise money for a good cause. If you ever wanted to rent a Harley here in paradise, check out Harley in Paradise. The on-line version of this newsletter has a shot of the rally heading across the border in the lowlands.
Roy Deep Sea Fishing takes out parties of four or five and comes back with wahoo and mahi lately, marlin and tuna, sometimes. Send an email if you are interested. If you don't have a party of four, we'll use this space and Roy's website to help fill out the charter. Send an email to get aboard.
Shopping: No great jewelry expeditions this week, but we have made several trips to Ace's new Mega Center in Cole Bay between the Harley place and Food Center. They have a first floor filled with the standard hardware things and a second floor of housewares. All that and a large parking lot on our side of the hill.
|Construction: That's US Imports new facade on the left. On the right is the tower at Belle Creole and despite all the blather last season, there is no action out there. The Cove at Cupecoy down on the lagoon shows no construction activity and the 460 square foot sales office on the main road is now for sale in the classified section of the Daily Herald.|
Mary's Boon: I believe this property was recently sold and the new owners have offered some onerous terms to the timeshare owners. Some of them have asked Jeff Berger for help in gathering names and email contact info for other owners in an attempt to change things. If you are an owner and want to get involved in this, email Jeff and he will forward your info on to the group.
Travel: All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page.
Groceries: We bought a pheasant at Grand Marche ($20) in Cole Bay for our New Year's Eve dinner. US Import had a deboned pintade (guinea fowl) stuffed with foie gras (about $40). We still had over half of the block of foie gras from Christmas, so we started with that and toast points, this time with a 2005 Sauternes Ch Lafone from the suprette at Sapphire ($25). Martha braised some endive from US Imports and added mushrooms for a lovely dinner with a 2003 Pommard Premier Cru from Aleth Le Royer-Girardin from Philipsburg Liquor Store. Dessert was rum with Etna Ice Cream from the Maho Food Express. The on-line version has a shot of the new entrance to the Sandy Ground US Import Supermarket.
Alcohol: The rums for our New Year's celebration were Havana Club 7 year old from Cuba ($16 at Grand Marche), 12 year old Appleton Estate Extra from Jamaica ($11 at Grand Marche), and a Mount Gay from Barbados ($8 for a liter on sale last year at Maho Food Express). The rights to the use of the name Havana Club were owned by the Arechebela family before the Cuban revolution. They fled the island and let those rights lapse in 1973. They were picked up in 1976 by a Cuban company and transferred in 1993 to Havana Club Holding, the Cuban government's joint venture with French spirits giant Pernod Ricard. Since 1994, Bermuda-based Bacardi has been locked in a legal battle with Pernod Ricard over the rights to sell rum with the Havana Club label in the United States. At the core of the dispute before the WTO is a U.S. law barring U.S. courts from enforcing Cuban brand names for products made by firms nationalized after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The 1998 law stripped Pernod Ricard of any right to legally challenge Bacardi in the United States, pitting the US against the rest of the world. Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, said: "If the United States does not respect the Inter-American Trademark Convention . . . it could cause utter chaos in trademark protection worldwide." Pernod Ricard and the EU both said the WTO panel sided with them in recommending that the United States make changes to conform to the WTO's Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement. "It's totally counterproductive to U.S. interests in getting better protection for intellectual property globally," said Smith, adding he is "baffled" by the U.S. Commerce Department's willingness to push the issue. "This law only benefits Bacardi, which isn't even a U.S. company," he said. "But then, this has to do with Cuba, which . . . seems to have the same effect on U.S. administrations as the full moon has on werewolves." All this was from the AP in August of 2001 and there is lots more on this. It's all part of the war that the Cuban exiles wage on Castro's government, now almost 50 years old.
So does it matter? The Mount Gay was pretty good, but the Havana Club was better. However, the Appleton Estate was cheaper than the Havana Club and we both liked it better than the Havana Club. Our evening ended with a Gerard Belin champagne from Select Wine Cellar as our neighbor, the owner of Hollywood Casino, set off fireworks on a barge just off our Caribbean-side balcony. I bought a case of the champagne last spring so I could have our maid give a bottle to all renters over the summer and have a few left! It's quite good at about $30 per bottle.
Gas: Last I checked, gas was cheaper at Cadisco stations on the French side. They are doing 1 to 1 and charging $1 per liter, about $3.80 per gallon. Find them on the west side of Marigot toward Sandy Ground and between Grand Case and Orient. I've been to both stations and they are both doing 1 to 1 for cash.
Traffic: On Monday we again went to Marci's Mega Gym 2000 at 8:30AM, had a one hour workout and headed over the bridge after the 9:30 opening. We did a quick stop at Grand Marche, turned around and picked up some things at the new Ace Mega-Store (they have most everything for homes), checked at MVG in Cole Bay for my new computer, and still beat the 11:00AM bridge during one of the busiest weeks on the island. Again, the mornings are OK, but mind the bridge openings and avoid the late afternoons into the evening rush hour.
Current Contest - now to 2 March 2008
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
DK Gems - $50 off a purchase of $100 or more
Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Le Cottage Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.
2 March to 27 April
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Halsey's Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Hibiscus Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
On Tuesday evening we went to Ti Bouchon for one last wine tasting and another fine dinner. The tasting started with a wine from Alsace. Most wines in this region are labeled with the grape type, the town, and the producer. One wine called Gentil is made from grapes selected by the winemaker for this cuvee. Gentil means kind or nice and is used in gentilhomme, gentleman, the theory being that the wine will be better than others from this producer. We had Hugel's version and found it to be a very pleasant white wine with a floral nose and a hint of sweetness, a perfect wine to start the evening. Our next wine was from Anjou, the western region of the Loire valley. It was an organic wine made from a mixture of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. While they will never rival the great Bordeaux further to the west, it was a quite drinkable wine.
As mentioned, there were six of us at the tasting and on into the dinner. Momo has started his new menu and it is on the website. It's not quite the "Bouchon" menu, as it is a bit more refined and exquisite. We started with three aps: Eggs en Meurette, a soufflé of snails with garlic cream, and a special request garnered sautéed foie gras. The eggs are a Burgundian specialty that features eggs poached in two cups of veal (sometimes chicken) stock with thinly sliced carrots, onion, celery, garlic, and spices (thyme sprigs, parsley stems, and a bay leaf) and three cups of fruity red wine. Add a garnish of bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms and butter to the poached eggs. Strain the poaching liquid, thicken it, and use it as a sauce. Here is the whole recipe. Sorry to use so much space on this, but it is one of the tastiest dishes I have had on the island and I felt the description of the ingredients and the many steps involved would convey that thought better than any fanciful food folderol on my part. I had the soufflé which was really a creamy, garlicky snail soup with finely diced carrots and onions with a puff pastry top - very tasty with a tubful of textures. The foie gras request was handled easily and gracefully. Our new friends love foie gras and as there was tournedos Rossini on the menu, it was obvious that there was foie gras in the kitchen. We were dining early and after Momo checked the foie gras supply and the chef's willingness to part with some, a custom ap was prepared - and prepared well.
The wine for all this was a sturdy Cotes du Rhone and something like that is required for the big flavors in the eggs en meurette and foie gras ap. The mussels may have benefited from something a bit lighter, but I toughed it out. Another bottle was required for the main courses: tournedos Rossini, lamb filet with an anchovy paste in a crispy shell, Chilean sea bass (the menu says American), a fish sampler (Newport to Nantucket on the menu), and two orders of the lotte (monkfish) in a Burgundy sauce (yes, one was mine). Again, these dishes are more refined and exquisite than those generally found in a bouchon, but who's to quibble about the name of great food, if it is great. Moreover at 1 to 1 pricing, our portion of the dinner came to $103.
On Thursday we met our previous neighbors at Sapphire over at Pirate Beach Bar on Orient Beach. They were staying at the nearby Westin which they liked, but noted that it was hardly an island experience. The northern end of Orient has several large restaurants with boutiques, watersports, massage tables, and more. The southern end, after Kontiki, becomes more like lolos, although some places have moved past paper plates and plastic cutlery. Pirate does use real plates and stainless flatware and the food is a quite good. We almost always have fish and are always pleased. The conch salad comes with plenty of conch at a bargain price. Unfortunately, it is not always available, so we had the grouper plate with rice and beans and a small salad and the shrimp salad. The grouper was a lovely firm fish with a spicy (optional) Cajun topping. Fries were available, but I prefer to add some Matouk's to the rice and beans for a three-alarm experience. Martha's shrimp were so good that I didn't get any. There's a coupon on the website that says if you buy two lunches you can have two beers or rum drinks, two chairs and an umbrella for another $12. For under $30 you could spend a day at Orient.
|We stopped at Rancho del Sol on the way home for some two for one happy hour drinks as we enjoyed the great view out across Orient Bay. You can judge the view for yourself. That's Tintemarre (as the French say or Flat Island as the English speakers say) in the distance.|
On Friday we made it to Pburg and found a parking spot. Admittedly, we had to leave by 9AM. We got our business done and headed back to the Orange Grove Shopping center for lunch with Marina at Champagne Restaurant across from her shop, Select Wine Cellar. Champagne has two to four specials every day plus a good sized menu. I almost always have one of the specials and Martha almost always has their very tasty salade Nicoise. There was a grouper and andouillette with mustard sauce on special. Marina had the first and I had the second. She had brought a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse over from the shop and we had a delightful, very French lunch under the umbrellas in the parking lot. The view of the hill rising up across the street is quite nice (there is a photo on-line) and the service is efficient. Most lunches come with a starch and a bit of salad and cost under $15, many around $10. It's a bargain.
So how good was it? First, we had reservations for a waterfront table and it was there. Menus were presented, specials were mentioned, and drink orders were taken. Drinks arrived, an amuse bouche (tapanade with toast) arrived, and we were asked if there were any questions. We said no, but we were still working our way through the large menu and even more voluminous wine list. Outside of La Samanna, possibly Santal and Gaiac, this is one of the longest lists on the island. Le Tastevin next door comes close and Le Cottage Restaurant across the street may also be close, but we always refuse their list and have Stephane pour wines by the glass for us there. Our champagne was delivered and we started by sharing the Cappuccino Style Lobster Bisque, which was a very tasty lobster ravioli floating in foam ($13.25).
Finishing our champagne, we moved on to Bouchard's 2002 Le Corton ($142). I'd say this was a special occasion, but the best we could think of was that it was Martha's brother's anniversary. The hill of Corton lies about 10 miles north of Beaune in the heart of Burgundy. At its base, the town of Aloxe has appended the name of the commune's most famous vineyard to its own name, becoming Aloxe-Corton. The wine was wonderful, smooth, not terribly powerful, just flavorful and long-lasting, finishing with the peppery tingle on the sides of the tongue, characteristic of a fine old red Burgundy. Even though it was a red wine, it went well with the next course of Sea Scallops and Artichokes with a lavender flavored salad in chorizo sauce. I remember Momo at Ti Bouchon introduced us to a thin-sliced scallop and chorizo combination that we loved. This adds a quarter of grilled artichoke heart and an interesting salad to the mix, not to mention a foam for the scallops, making an even more interesting dish. The original would be a bouchon approach to the basic taste and texture combo and David cranked it up to a fine dining experience. I like both. We are planning a trip to France next fall and have left two days to visit the bouchon restaurants in Lyon before we drive down to Maison Pic in Valence.
The wine really shined with our dinners: French Veal Sweetbread in a creamy asparagus and truffle sauce with mashed potatoes ($29) and Veal Scaloppini stuffed with fresh goat cheese and tomatoes in a sage sauce ($28.75). the sweetbreads were cut into two inch rounds and crisped, a perfect foil for a smooth sauce and mashed potatoes. The goat cheese injected a strong flavor note into the veal tenderloin and the dried tomatoes were a nice touch. We lingered as we finished the wine and sipped espressos to the sounds of the crashing surf. It was a wonderful meal with great service and the food came to about $100. Making it all special with one of the finest wines in Burgundy added a bit more.
We crossed the street to Le Cottage Restaurant to make reservations for next Wednesday only to have Bruno and Stephane lead us to one of the vacant tables on the porch and offer some XO Calvados. Note to self: This smooth and tasty apple brandy would be great with a tarte tatin.
Here's a foodie's list of his favorite food books from last year.
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night from 15 January 2007 until April.
Changes: Fathoms hasn't appeared to be open over the last two weeks. The chalkboard out front is blank on one side and merely says "Happy Hour 4-6" on the other, while the tightly closed front door suggests otherwise.
BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS
Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).
Ti Bouchon Wine Tasting: Momo has now opened for lunch and dinner with two new chefs. He no longer has time to indulge us in fine wines in the afternoon. Most unfortunate.
Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:
Le Baccara Restaurant
Pirate Beach Bar
Pedro's Beach Bar
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Good Cards (and gifts)
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.