St Maarten/St Martin
16 March 2008 Newsletter

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Weather: Sunday was a bit squally out toward Saba in the morning, but things cleared up and as the regatta came by, it was a beautiful day with haze and clouds on the horizon and a few white puffy clouds above. All in all, the only complaint from landlubbers during the three days of the regatta was that it was a bit windy. This obviously made it perfect for sailors. Monday was also fabulous and Tuesday was one of the clearest days in a month (see photo right). Wednesday was just as nice, but a tropical downpour made Marigot pretty soggy during a late dinner at Marrakech Restaurant. Thursday was lovely, clear, sunny, and dry. Friday morning I could see rooftops on Saban houses. Today's (16 Mar) sunset will be at 6:18PM. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 21 Mar (this week!), 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec. Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.   clear day looking over to Saba

Friar's Bay Beach Bar  

SXM-Beaches: On Sunday Wendy K reports still choppy seas and a lot of wind, but OK getting in and out of the water at Cupecoy. Lots of sand at the Shore Pointe beach [I hate calling it that, but sadly, am getting used to the building there.] Watched the regatta boats pass by, beginning about 9:30.

On regatta Saturday I took many photographs of the boats and beaches as we sailed by on Celine of Lagoon Pub Crawl fame. There are new shots of the full range of Cupecoy showing the construction and a couple shots from our anchorage at Friar's Bay on the SXM-Beaches site. The shot on the left is Friar's Bay Beach Bar. If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.

Beach Reading: I'm still reading Caribbean by James A. Michener. I'm making progress. It doesn't speak highly of the Caribs, although local authorities now claim they never ventured this far north.

Activities: The 28th Heineken Regatta finished in Simpson Bay on Sunday night and on into Monday morning. We went out on Celine, home of the world famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, with Captain Neil for Saturday's races. We had a great time and only put two photos in the newsletter last Sunday, so here are a few more and there are many more up on our regatta website, including some from Sunday, the final day.


Roy Deep Sea Fishing takes out parties of four or five and comes back with wahoo and mahi lately, marlin and tuna, sometimes. 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.

Pharos   Construction: Aquarius is now billing it self as a Beach Front Condo Resort. It used to be called a Greek village, whatever that implied when built by Italians (the Eratos) in the Caribbean. In any event, there is now a display ad running in the Daily Herald offering Special Beach Front Units with 6.5% interest, but with only 60% financing??? It's still from Marc, different email address from the previous ad for their Rainbow Beach project that offered 90% financing. The front page of Real Estate Monthly (Your Free Real Estate Paper) says they are throwing in an SUV with every purchase. It appears that the building along the road at Rainbow Beach has now been topped out.

Here's a photo of Pharos, looks like a tomb, no windows, although it says they will have window walls. Construction seems to have picked up also. More bodies on site and the structure seems to be moving upward ever faster.

Sapphire Beach Club: The Wifi was extremely slow up in the units over the last couple weeks, so Sapphire was allowing free access. They have fixed the problem and now they are charging again. It's still quite a deal and extremely convenient. Sapphire has a bit of beach, as the photo shows. They have been fogging the gardens as whitefly is a bit of a problem. Maintenance throughout the resort is better than previously. The hot tub is also clean and warm.

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 esk@sxm-info.com 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.

  Sapphire's bit of Cupecoy Beach

Travel: At PJI Airport, the baggage scanner for checked luggage failed so all checked luggage had to be carried by hand to the scanners for carryon luggage and there weren't enough hands nor capacity on those scanners. So while people could check-in and board planes, their luggage frequently remained behind. At least they were going home (for the most part). It's really tough to arrive here for a two week vacation and have no luggage - unless you are going to Club Orient. It was out for several days but Saturday's paper claimed it was better.

We had guests arrive on Friday on American 687 from Miami. It all worked and we could see their early arrival from our balcony. Immigration was a bit backed up at this time, but we had a parking spot next to the crosswalk in front of the arrivals door and had them back at the condo in about 45 minutes. 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: Martha took the distaff half of our guests to Lipstick in Marigot while the guys did more many things: drink beer and watch rugby. They are still doing 1 to 1 on the euro, even for credit card purchases. The prices are better than the US. The Daily Herald had reported that over 70 businesses in Marigot had failed in the last year or two.

Groceries: The Lido Food Center in Cole Bay is no more. We had a very sad experience there recently, hoping to save some time as they were closer and less crowded than the Grand Marche. The shelves were only partially filled, the prices displayed on the shelves did not coincide with the goods on the shelves, etc. No loss in losing this joint.

One of the reasons the Lido has folded is that the Grand Marche, about a half mile down the road, has a much better selection including Bleu d'Auvergne at $6.75/lb, Tomme Savoie at $7.10/lb, Comte at $7.00/lb, and Morbier at $5.20/lb. These are fabulous prices. The Morbier at US Imports on the French side was about $10 per lb this week. If you don't know what these are, buy Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins or French Cheeses: The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France

This is almost about groceries, but not SXM groceries. Martha found something about Free Rice in a Sunday NY Times magazine article entitled Lexicographical Benificence. It's a word definition quiz where you get a word and four choices for its meaning. They have found sponsors who will donate 20 grains of rice to a UN food program for every correct word definition chosen. After a few clicks, they assign you a level of ability and you move up the levels with three correct answers but down with one incorrect. It's mildly addictive, but costs you nothing and is good for your vocabulary and good for the world. A periphrastic, carpal-tunneled scribe (we are no longer ink-stained wretches) such as myself found it to be great fun.

Alcohol: We picked up some more of Jean-Jacques Girard's 2006 Savigny-les-Beaune from at Select Wine Cellar ($29.90). It's a wonderful chardonnay and gets cheaper with the coupon the website. Better yet, enter their contest and win a bottle and a tasting. We also got some of Le Royer-Girarden's 2003 Pommard Vignots from François at Philipsburg Liquors.

Statia and St Kitts   Traffic: Again we managed to drive through Cole Bay into Simpson Bay and past the airport between the 4:30 and 5:30 bridges with no problem. The traffic on the other side was solid and slow, backed up from Cole Bay Hill heading into Pburg to the end of the airport runway. Mornings are much easier for traveling to Pburg, just mind the bridge openings if you come from our side of the island: 9, 9:30, 11, and 11:30 AM. These photos were taken at the crazy café at the lookout on Cole Bay Hill as you head into Pburg. On the left you get a peek at the earthmoving in Cay Bay with Statia and St Kitts in the distance. On the right is Saba looming behind the flank of Cole Bay Hill. These were taken later in the week as things cleared up.   Saba

Gas Prices at Cadisco are now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.03 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: I saw the iguana next to the ghut near the turnoff to Friar's bay again. He's quite big and has taken to sunning himself alongside the road. He seems unafraid of traffic, but when I pulled over onto the side road and walked back toward him, he ducked back into the rocks. Sorry, no photo - yet!

Small island story: As noted earlier, we got some Pommard Vignots from François at Philipsburg Liquors. Buy enough and he delivers, but after we got home from Marci's Gym on Thursday morning, François called to ask if he could drop off the wine at Select Wine Cellar in Cole Bay. He had a delivery there also and knew that we often bought wine there. He would save himself a trip to the far end of the island. I said no problem, asked how much money we had to leave there, and filled an envelope for him with the required money. It really was no problem as we were headed out to lunch in Marigot and then on to Select to pick up some white Savigny-les-Beaune. The really small island part is that as we walked back to the car after a wonderful lunch at Bellevue on the far side of Marigot, I heard someone call my name. It was François making more deliveries in Marigot. I gave him his money and drove off to pick up my wines at Select.


Current Contest - now to 27 April 2008
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
L'Escargot Restaurant - $100 off dinner for two (cash payments only, excludes Friday Cabaret show)
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.

Future Contests:

27 April to 27 July
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Ti Coin Créole - $50 off a dinner for two
Marci's MegaGym 2000 - Two weeks gym admission and two mega-shakes

27 July to 26 October
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Azure Guesthouse - seven nights for the price of four
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine

26 October to 28 December
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Bikini Beach - A DAY AT THE BEACH
(including 2 chairs and a parasol, 2 welcome punches and $50.00 credit towards food and drink)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine


On 2 March the euro was at 1.542. Today it is at 1.567. Another new low for the dollar. Last season, some restaurants were still offering a 1 to 1 exchange, but the numbers of such restaurants are decreasing. At a 15% or 20% premium they could do it for a while, but as the US budget and balance of payment deficits have ratcheted upward, international confidence in the dollar has ratcheted downwards. Most restaurants have dropped this because at 40 to 50% premium, there isn't much profit left. California Restaurant, L'Escapade Restaurant, Kokomarina, Rancho del Sol, Sunset Café, Ti Bouchon, Auberge Gourmande, Paradise View Restaurant, Spiga, Le France, Fish Pot, and Spicy are still is offering 1 to 1 and many other restaurants are offering favorable exchange rates. Just taking your dollars at the current exchange rate saves the 3% foreign exchange conversion rate from most credit cards.

Wendy K reports a better than usual lunch at Durreche last Sunday, It wasn't busy (probably Regatta-related as the race left Marigot and headed to Simpson Bay that morning). Mr WK had langue with a sauce a la charcutiere which had tomatoes, onions, cornichons, etc. It was delicious. I had a duo de la mer of tuna and salmon. With a bottle of house red [now 10 euros] and fizzy water, the bill was well under $50 with a generous tip.

  On Sunday we went to Le Chalet Restaurant in Nettle Bay. It's across from the Primiere Supermarché in Sandy Ground and certainly there is plenty of parking there at night. The restaurant has been here for a long time and had a sign that said Cheese House. A few years ago that came down and now it says Le Chalet. It turns out that they serve Swiss food (and some Swiss wine!). The Swiss food is fondue, raclette, and pierrade. Fondue is the one where you dip bread into a pot of melted cheese and wine or meat into boiling oil. Raclette requires that the surface of a half round of raclette cheese be heated to its melting point. The melted cheese is then scraped onto some cooked potatoes sliced in half. This tasty concoction accompanies a plate of charcuterie: ham, sausage with chanterelles, sausage with nuts, sausage with blueberries, air dried ham, and salami. Pierrade (as in pierre, not just a name, but also the word for rock, in French) features meat and/or fish cooked tableside on a super-hot rock. We had the raclette with a bottle of a Swiss Gamay. This is the grape used in all red Beaujolais and tastes similar. It was sinfully delicious and only cost 22€ per person. The wine cost about the same, so with a bottle of water, our total bill was about 70€ or $100 using a favorable exchange rate.

The exterior has some wood paneling with skis attached giving you a hint of what is inside. Indeed, the interior is similar: wood paneling adorned with ski paraphenalia and lots of booths with plenty of space for the raclette heater. It is a favorite of locals and far-flung visitors. While most of the French visiting the island laugh at us Americans for eating heavy and hearty French food in this warm climate, all the visitors from other countries take advantage of the ability to get food like this. Isabel, the part-owner (and waitress), said that one evening they had visitors from 26 different countries. It's good to make reservations.

On Monday we went to Restaurant du Soleil on the water in Grand Case. We started with a couple flutes of champagne to celebrate Monday and looked over the menu and specials. Chef Marc Daniel has arrived here after serving as the executive chef at Leserre in Paris. The menu is replete with examples of classical French preparations, adapted to a seaside bistro. Eventually, we choose the Oefs en Meurette (two poached eggs on toast in a wine-based sauce featuring onions and bacon (8€). This is a very old preparation and doing it right takes quite a bit of time, but it is time well spent. The 2005 Savigny-les-Beaune from Bouchard was also helpful (38€). Our dinners were the smoked mahi with wild mushrooms off the menu (17€) and a Coq au Riesling (18€), essentially the standard coq au vin, but this is how it is done in Alsace rather than Burgundy. Obviously, it's a bit more delicate tasting, but still quite tender. We ended with espressos and ballons of Armagnac. The total bill was 104€ and as Cedric uses a friendly $1.35/€ exchange rate, only $140 for some very good food and a nice bottle of wine on the water.   Smoked mahi

Sami   When we were walking out of the parking lot in Grand Case, Joe (the owner) mentioned that he had left the side gate open because at 7PM there was going to be a party at Sesame Café. We walked up the street, essentially following our ears and found a grill, an entertainment tent, and a drinks tent had been set up between the police station and Sesame Café. Inside the Café one could get drinks coupons at $2 each. Buy five and you got a free Mount Gay tee-shirt. If you ever wondered what happened to Sami, the bartender at Amandier (now closed), he is the co-owner of Sesame (left). The band was Mr Skin. I didn't recognize him. He has lost about 60 lbs and grown hair, so calling him Mr Skin seems to be a misnomer. He's a very good guitarist and the other two band members were quite accomplished also. They play at Bikini Beach during the week.   Mr Skin

François   And what was this party about? I guess there was still some Mount Gay Rum left after the regatta sailors ravished the island. Philipsburg Liquors is the local distributor and François (left) loves a party.

On Wednesday night we went to Marrakech Restaurant for a wonderful Moroccan dinner. Toufiq has turned an old Créole cottage into something out of the Arabian Nights via the arrival of a container or two full of fixtures and furnishings and thanks to his grandmother, the cuisine is original also. We were quite early because we had a few errands and after parking in the lot across the street, we opted for drinks to start. They arrived with some spicy olives and eventually we ordered. Some pita bread and house-made harissa arrived. This stuff is hot, but also quite tasty if used sparingly.


We had ordered kemia (above right), the starter sampler plate (24€). It had a dozen small bowls: chili peppers, grated carrots with orange and fig, bell pepper with vinegar and garlic, cucumber with time, tomato and cayenne, wheat berries with lemon confit and herbs, sweet potato with cinnamon and sesame, tomato and caramelized tomato, bell pepper with tomato, cumin, and coriander, potato salad with egg, garlic, and parsley, mashed green peas with paprika and olive oil, and beets with ginger, vinegar, and almonds. Given the basket of Pita bread, now gone, this was probably enough, but we had ordered two tajines: mussels and meatballs. All tajines and cous-cous dishes are in the mid 20€ range and come with cous-cous and stewed veg. The dish based on mussels was new to us and quite good but Martha loves the meatball (kefta) version. We took home enough for Thursday night's dinner. Our waiter recommended a Moroccan wine with all this (32€) and it was a most interesting dinner. Now that Dehlia's (or Casablanca) is closed, this is the spot for Moroccan food and it's certainly worth a visit.

On Thursday we met Martyne (formerly at Mario's Bistro) for lunch at Bellevue in Bellevue on the outskirts of Marigot. The chef/owner is Christophe Martinez formerly from Le Cottage Restaurant and the waiter/owner is Cedric, formerly of Le Tastevin. This is pretty high-class talent to be running a lunchroom. But it is no ordinary lunchroom. There is a menu but there is also a board of four specials and a couple desserts. We had the hanger steak with oyster mushrooms, sliced chicken breast salad with bacon and small potatoes, and a chicken pot pie, French style (from left to right below). Hanger steak is something rarely seen in the US and rare any other place as there are two hanger steaks of a pound or so each on an average 1150 lb live steer that will yield about 575 lbs of butcher shop products. It is the tip of the diaphragm muscle. Obviously, it is a muscle that gets used a lot, but doesn't do any heavy lifting, nor does it have much bone, fat, or gristle. Cooked well and sliced thin, it is an inexpensive and flavorful, if chewy, steak. Christophe knows how to cook it and when he lays on the oyster mushrooms, puts more mushroom duxelle in a bit of filo dough and crisps it up, plus some spinach you know you have a lunch worthy of a plate, Limoges plate. The other two specials were quite good also. We had a molten chocolate cake and a thin sliced apple tart for dessert -- both good. The only complaint is that wine list is quite thin, although we did have a decent bottle of Bordeaux. We finished with espressos and complimentary banana rum. The cost was about $100 for the three of us.

Hanger steak with oyster mushrooms   Sliced chicken breast   Chicken pot pie

We had lunch on saturday at Belle Epoque Restaurant in Marigot's Marina Royale. The food is good, as is the service. The moules were running so we had two orders, one with cream sauce and one in white wine. I got a few of them and some crispy fries - very good. As usual, I got a pizza and Martha had the salade Niçoise - all good, especially with a few Stella Artois from the tap. The real reason we were here, however, is rugby. Wales was playing France for the championship of the six nations tournement. The bar had a few patrons as we arrived at 12:30. A group in deep red matching jerseys (the Welsh team's colors) marched in shortly thereafter and sang along as the Welsh national anthem was played at the start of the game. By the end of the game, they were singing, chanting, and cheering in violation of OSHA standards, fueled by Stella and the fact that Wales was winning. The barman contributed to the melee by passing out rounds of shots every once in a while. It was great fun.   Rugby fans

That evening we went to Halsey's Restaurant next to the Dutch bridge for some fine dining. Last week I singled them out as one of the best in the Simpson Bay area. A little bit further along is Saratoga, run by another trained chef, John Jackson. He is putting out some interesting food in a very nice restaurant. But tonight we took Halsey's new wine list for a test drive. It's a bit longer than previously and had two pinots: Kendall Jackson from California ($39) and Bouchard from France ($22). I ordered them both and we had a mini-tasting. The KJ had a lot more fruit, as is the case with most California wines. The vintners strive to keep the fresh fruit taste in their wines and sell them young while they still have the fruity taste. I don't find that as food-friendly as the French approach, but the KJ was a very nice wine. Our aps were Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Cakes with a Spicy Cajun Remoulade ($13), Sesame Infused Sushi Grade Tuna Served with Wasabi, Soy, and Spicy Red Chili Sauce and Wakame Seaweed and Vegetable maki sushi ($16), and a tempura soft shelled crab. Ryan Halsey does some great things with fish and these were perfect examples. The flavors are bold, especially in the remoulade and the chili sauce, so our red wines were not a problem. Main courses were the Quick Seared Sesame Encrusted Yellofin tuna with a Wasabi Cream Sauce, Wakame Seaweed and Vegetable Maki Sushi ($25) and a Colorado lamb chop rack with garlic mashed potatoes in a peppercorn sauce ($29). We skipped dessert and coffee so our bill barely topped $100 per couple, a very good price for such interesting food. Just to make this clear, everyone had a main course, it's just that three couples ordered three tuna dishes and three lamb chop dishes.

Changes: Vincent, the previous owner of Thai Garden, has taken back ownership as the sale didn't work out. He says he will sell it again after some cleaning and repair work. I suspect that Thai Garden and Mai's are two of the 70 businesses that have closed in Marigot over the last couple years. That leaves Tai Chi Restaurant in Orient Village and Thai Savanh in the Atlantis Casino complex for Thai food.


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. The next one is on 4 April. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).

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.

Orient Village has a similar, though smaller, affair on Friday nights.

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:

Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Kakao Beach
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pirate Beach Bar
Paradise View
Tai Chi
Lots here
and here
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Diamonds International

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.