St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday, 20 Jan, started out with several tropical downpours passing over Cupecoy and Simpson Bay and continued like that on into the evening. Monday was overcast with a lot of haze on the horizon and frequent showers. Tuesday was the first decent day in a while, but the haze was still thick and it was mostly cloudy. It rained in Grand Case at the start of Harmony Night, but stopped and things went on. Finally by Wednesday evening, things were clearing up. On Thursday morning we noticed that clouds were not piling up over the central highlands for the first time in over a week. The blue skies were quite welcome and led to a fabulous sunset as Tango, Lambada, and two NA Coast Guard ships were out on a sunset cruise. Friday was another lovely day with a great sunset but by Saturday morning large rollers started to build at Cupecoy. They calmed down overnight and Sunday was beautiful.|
Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.
Today's (27 Jan) sunset will be at 6:01PM.
Full moon dates for 2008 are: 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: Early in the week Wendy K reports that she has seen enough rain and that there is not much beach at Cupecoy, although the current wave action should fill the northern end ... soon. If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.
Activities: The photos of the sunset in the on-line version of the newsletter show Tango and Lambada. Tango goes out for 1.5 hour sunset cruises on Thursday for $30 per person and Lambada goes out for 3 hour dinner cruises on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for $65 per person. 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.
Construction: We have been told that the Belle Creole property covers both sides of the road through the lowlands, ie they have both oceanfront and lagoonfront property. At present, brush is being cleared from the lagoonfront property. Hmmm?
The Daily Herald reports that there are plans to move the airport road to the outside of the passenger parking lot. At present it passes between the terminal and the parking lot so that all passengers heading to the parking lot must cross the main road. This has led to immense backups especially on Saturday and Sunday. The new plan will take traffic in a more circituitous route, but at least it will not be subject to the whims passengers.
Sapphire Beach Club: Sapphire is getting new furniture. Certainly, some of the special assessment is being used for improvements to the timeshare units. 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. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page.
Shopping: We bumped into Love Mahtani from Jewels By Love in Grand Case recently. He was on his way to big dinner at L'Escapade Restaurant on the waterfront. I think they deserve each other. The wait staff at Escapade, essentially Axel and Mimi, are two of the nicest and most competent servers on the island and we have spent quite a bit of time just chatting with Love. He's a wonderful guy with some fabulous jewelry.
Groceries: There are Guadeloupe melons on the island and we have long advocated a lunch that starts with quarter melon, a squeeze of lime, and some ham: prosciutto, Serrano, or Bayonne. Certainly Grand Marche and US Imports can provide this and I suspect that Match on the far side of Marigot can also. See below for wines.
On Saturday morning because they were selling off the fixtures and furnishings from Spartaco restaurant in the Almond Grove development in Cole Bay. We were a bit early so we went into the old Food Center across the street. The new Grand Marché has taken almost all of its business, but they did have some real tomatoes, ie the local Guadeloupe tomatoes. We don't find the lovely round red, vine-ripened clusters all that good. They appear to have been chosen for their loveliness and ability to be shipped 5000 miles more than for their taste. I don't disparage all greenhouse tomatoes, as we find Shushan Selects to be quite good. Then again, they travel ten miles to my house on the seat of my pickup truck.
Alcohol: To go with our Guadeloupe melon, we tasted a Coteaux d'Aix en Provence rosé versus a Marsannay Rosé from Coillot. Marsannay is the northern end of the Cote de Nuit in Burgundy and while Provence can make some lovely rosés, it isn't Burgundy. I tasted blind and picked the Marsannay, easily. They both came from Select Wine Cellar, both 2006. It's not really a comparison as the version from Provence cost $12 and the Marsannay came in at $24.50. I'm hard pressed to pay that much extra. Even the coupon on the website for a 10% discount on any purchase or the case discounts can't close that gap too much. I think a more interesting taste test would be this wine from Provence against some of the more readily available rosés on the island, ie the Rose d'une Nuit, Rocher, etc. Stay tuned.
Traffic: Sometime between 3 and 4PM, eastbound traffic from the lowlands past the airport through Simpson Bay slows to a crawl. It then gets worse as the 4:30 and 5:30 bridge openings bring things to a halt, just as the end of the work-day and beach-day traffic begins. It is possible to head in a westerly direction. Gas prices have gone up at Cadisco. It's now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.02 in Sandy Ground, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash and I think they are still cheaper than the Dutch side.
Nature: The seabird off our balcony is back and it is an osprey. The local bird book says it's far from home, as it nests in Cuba at this time of year. Then again, the three greatest successes of the Cuban revolution are healthcare, education, and athletics, while the three greatest failures are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Possibly he's hungry. I stole that from Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach.
Small island story: The Daily Herald had a front page story direly warning that the underpinning of the local economy, small businesses, were not adequately insured. The breathless expert recited a litany of woes for which insurance was the answer. Further reading revealed that the expert was a student working as an intern for, wait for it, Henderson Insurance. Front page news, I am not making this up.
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
Last week's discussion of Halsey's Restaurant should have said something like "It is a come as you are restaurant and during happy hour attracts a crowd that came as they were and has a good time sliding into the night's activities." We've certainly showed up after a tough day at the beach and after a few drinks and some munchies felt ready to face the world again.
|On Wednesday we went to Blue Martini next to the parking lot in Grand Case. Pascal said that the rain at the start of last evening's Harmony Night kept the crowds smaller than the opening night, last week, but he was still pleased with the results. Blue Martini has shifted a bit from the standard French cuisine in Grand Case to a steak house, pizzeria, fajita style. There is also an all you can eat the foie gras plus a main course of fish or meat special. Don't forget the garden out back with a large bar and a stage. It's eclectic. The pizzas are the usual suspects and some specials (this night was a Savoyard: Reblochon cheese (one of my favorites), potatoes, onions, and bacon). The steak selection features entrecote (ribeye), filet mignon, and cote du boeuf (prime rib) with your choice of sauces. The menu does include quite a bit of fish and there is a large specials board. The wine list covers all (French) bases and we choose a 2006 Burgundy that was quite good at only 25€. We started with a special: baked goat cheese in a crispy crust on a bed of lettuce with tomatoes and a balsamic drizzle. This is a semi-standard dish on the French side and for good reason. Goat cheese is wonderful, and baking it seems to make it a touch milder (which may appeal to some people) and certainly makes it more fluid. This fluidity contrasts nicely with the warm crunchy filo dough wrapper and the cold crisp lettuce (13€). I had the ribeye with a nice mushroom sauce, some fresh (not frozen) potatoes fried in fresh oil, and a bit of ratatouille (22€). Martha had the chicken roll special, two chicken breasts rolled around a bit of filling featuring scallions on a bed of mashed potatoes that did not come from a box (only 17€). This was actually more food than we could eat and as they use a 1.35 to 1 exchange rate, it came to only $110.|
On Friday night we went Saint Séverin Restaurant for the St Vincent's Day celebration. Vincent is the patron saint of winemakers and is especially revered in Burgundy. Francois Prudhomme of Philipsburg Liquors is from Burgundy and possibly is the only person I have met who loves it as much as I do, so I was grateful that he had helped to arrange this dinner. We started with an authentic kir: a shot of cassis in a glass of Bourgogne Aligoté, a light white wine made from the Aligoté grape. The drink is named after Félix Kir (1876 - 1968) who was the mayor of Dijon in northern Burgundy. He popularized the town twinning movement (we tend to say sister cities) after WW2 and served this drink to visiting international delegations, thereby popularizing two of his region's products. It's a great way to start a meal. Francois had put together a list of his wines especially for this event and we choose a 2004 Auxey-Duresses from Prunier. It's a lesser known vineyard tucked into a second range of hills in the southern Cote d'Or, somewhat lighter than its northern relatives and therefore quite good with the snails and coq au vin that was to come. The snails arrived in two bits of puff pastry with a rich brown sauce. The coq au vin is supposed to be an old rooster made edible by slow cooking in a red wine-based broth containing potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and bacon or salt pork. It's doubtful that there are too many old roosters available anyplace, but the preparation works quite well with an old hen (that would be a stewing chicken) or even a regular chicken. The cheese course featured Chambertin, Nuits St George, and Epoisses. The first two are two of the more famous wine areas of the northern Cote d'Or and the last is made in the Burgundian town of Epoisses. It is an AOC cheese-making region, but not a wine town. The cheese is the favorite of Steve Jenkins, author of the Cheese Primer, who advises that Berthaut is the only AOC version. These quite robust cheeses called out for a bigger Burgundy, but I deferred to the gendarmes and shepherded my lighter Auxey-Duresses through this course also. The dessert was tripartite: a granité, an extremely tasty bit of sabayon (the French version of zabaglione), and a bosc pear poached in red wine. Espresso and a Marc from Latour's Chateau Corton Grancey ended the evening. The aperitif and digestif were part of the four course dinner for 33€. Our wine was only 23€ as Francois was helping a bit with the price. We did have to pay 8€ for the water and espressos bringing our bill for a fantastic meal to 97€, which came to only $131 as the restaurant is using $1.35/€. During dinner Christophe, the local accordionist, entertained and the various French locals (including Martine from Alizes Car Rental) joined in.
For those of you worried that the new ownership would change things at Saint Séverin, I can report that the same menus are in use and the plates that I saw from those menus (most people had the St Vincent feast) looked much the same. The fresh fish arrives from France as before and the offerings are the same. It's not exactly a tourist hangout, given that the view features a parking lot, but lately, a good parking spot is hard to find, so maybe this is better.
We had reservations for the waterfront table at Auberge Gourmande on Saturday evening. That's the table next to the defunct lobster tank on the corner of the porch. It affords a lovely view of Le Tastevin and Sexy Fruits across the street. Florence told us that they had to keep several customers away from the table we had reserved. Reservations are good, although the interior tables are quite nice and nights with a lot of boombox-on-wheels traffic get a bit tedious on the porch. We ordered water and looked over the specials, choosing the crab salad with mango appetizer and the monkfish with shrimp and mashed potatoes infused with beetroot. Martha ordered an old favorite, the chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese and morel mushroom sauce from the regular menu. Despite the two delicate seafood dishes, we ordered a sturdy Rhone wine: 2004 Crozes-Hermitage from Jaboulet ($42). The village of Crozes added the name of the most famous local vineyard (Hermitage) to its name, hoping some of the luster would attach itself to the commune wine. It's a pretty good wine and if you don't want to pay twice as much for a real Hermitage, it's a reasonable facsimile. There is even a Gigondas on the wine list. It's next door to Crozes-Hermitage, but lacking a famous vineyard, it commands only two-thirds the price of the Crozes-Hermitage, making it a bargain in the Rhone region. Rhones can be a mix of about a dozen grape types and the reds contain a healthy amount of syrah. The best are quite powerful and quite long-lasting. Our crab arrived and its bold flavors were fine with wine. There really was quite a bit of crab in the crab salad, and that's a good thing, he says, thinking back to the "Where's the beef commercials". The monkfish and shrimp with the beetroot-infused mashed potatoes with veg (yellow squash, zukes, cauliflower) topped with fried leeks was quite good having three bits of monkfish each topped with a large shrimp in a light sauce. Martha's chicken with bleu cheese and morel mushrooms certainly had bigger, bolder flavors and a lovely bit of scalloped potatoes. There is a reason it is one of our favorites. We finished a lovely evening with espressos and snifters of Armagnac. As they do 1 to 1 for the euro, the meal came to a bit over $100.
Lou Lou was playing at G's Snack as we came by, so we stopped for an Amstel Light for me (deferring to the gendarmes) and a ti punch for Martha. The couple who had been dining at the other end of the Auberge porch walked to the parking lot and I nodded. A minute later, they returned, lured by Lou Lou's melodies. We welcomed them to our table and proceeded to explain G's Snack. They were stunned by $1 beers, having come from the Marquis in Anse Marcel. The crowd is mostly locals but on Saturday night many tourists stop in for a beer and stay for a few more as Lou Lou works his way from Harry Belafonte, through Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley, to UB40. Some people join in the songs on another mike and several people dance. Lou Lou has a wireless mike so he can work the street, spending quite a bit of time across the street on the porch of Restaurant du Soleil. The chef came over for a beer break at the end of service and I imagine that Cedric showed up also, but we left early, getting home before midnight. It's great fun and, if you are counting, a 150 pound man could metabolize the alcohol in two of the small Amstel Lights in an hour. Your BAC (blood alcohol content) won't go up, but your waistline might.
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night in Grand Case until April. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot on several nights.
Changes: Alabama is closed again. The word on the street is that the gendarmes decided that all the paperwork was not in order. We have heard that the French side is getting a bit more thorough when it comes to opening new restaurants or even remodeling old ones.
BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS
Art in the Park: The annual Art in the Park show will take place on Sunday, 10 Feb at Emilio Wilson Park, a short drive past the Texaco at the Pburg roundabout. Festivities start at 10AM and run until 4PM.
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).
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:
Pirate Beach Bar
Pedro's Beach Bar
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
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.