St Maarten/St Martin
30 March 2008 Newsletter

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Weather: Last Sunday was not the greatest of days and Monday has arrived with total cloud cover to the south and only a few patches of blue to the north and east, from whence comes our weather. Later in the morning it was mostly blue with several clouds, but never got very warm. Tuesday arrived with total cloud cover and stayed that way most of the day. It claims the temperature is 81F, but I don't think so. I do think it is warmer than the 41F currently back in upstate NY, so no complaints. The photo on the right was taken that evening from the lagoonside balcony of out condo. There were still a lot of clouds but they were breaking up such that by Wednesday morning it was considerably brighter. Nonetheless, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday had some rain squalls. Today has started with more than enough clouds. Today's (23 Mar) sunset will be at 6:21PM. Last week was the equinox, when everyone got 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. You'll be happy to know that for the next six months those of you in the more northerly climes will be having more sunlight per day than we will have down here. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 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.   Sunset over the lagoon on Tuesday

Fallen rocks at the Little Cove at Cupecoy   SXM-Beaches: On Monday Wendy K reported "We decided to go to Mullet today as a change of pace while waiting for the waters to calm at Cupecoy. Incidentally, there's a "window" now in the monolith that wasn't there before the storm. There were gentle swells and a huge amount of sand at the Maho end of the beach, which appears to have come from the Cupecoy end. Surprisingly, most of the trash left from the Easter weekend festivities had either already been bagged, or was in being bagged." Wendy also supplied this photo of the fallen rock at the little cove on Cupecoy. By Wednesday there was sand at all 3 Cupecoy beaches, although the majority is back at the main beach at the far NW end. The waves were gentle, but the water hasn't regained the clarity of the few days before the storm. There were two pelicans - the first I've seen this season - diving for fish along the shore. Pat at Tropical Wave said the reef protected his operation on Le Galion and they were open throughout the huge waves last week. 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, but slowly with loafing, dining, newsletters, etc.

Activities: We bumped into Diane Smith near Ric's Place as we headed for Marci's Mega Gym 2000. She and her husband Dean have taken over Random Wind and changed things a bit. The day sail now starts with a breakfast at Ric's, after which you board Random Wind for a sail around the west side of the island to the French side. They stop and anchor in numerous bays so that you experience the best in sailing, snorkeling, good time lazin’, and beaching, as well as coastal sight seeing. The lunch now includes Caribbean chicken and, as always, the bar is open.

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.

  Random Wind

Construction across from Bay Rouge   Construction: Last week I mentioned that Caravanserai appears to be up to the second or third story, quite visible from highway running past the airport. Here's a close up photo of the entrance to Bamboo Bernies with the construction going upward around their original dining room. They have already lost the bar and the tiki huts to this project. They planned on starting this season on the second floor at Maho, but were still open at this location in December. At that time they thought February would be the time for their move. It doesn't look like it to me.

Sapphire Beach Club: It's that time of year. We are returning to our home in NY in about two weeks. Our condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April to December 15, $2000 per week during holiday season (20 Dec until 4 Jan), and $1500 per week at other times. The rental includes about $300 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

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.

Travel: Our guests woke up on Saturday morning a week ago to find that their 2:30PM AA flight to Miami was delayed until 8:30PM. We knew that we had to get them to the airport by 12:30PM because previous guests had Continental give away their seats and charge them a $100 each change fee when they showed up two hours before the delayed departure time. The seats were given away two hours before originally scheduled departure. On Continental you can check-in online. On AA, you can't (at least on overseas flights), so our poor guests were taken to the airport for an eight hour wait. It took them two hours to get through the line and then they were told a 4:30 departure, so rather than have me come back for them they waited. At 4:30 it was changed to 6:30, etc, etc. They finally took off at about 9PM, never got to Houston that evening (of course). They got a hotel in Miami and about four hours sleep before they had to return to the airport for their flight to Houston.

And the baggage scanner for checked luggage is broken again.

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.

Traffic: We drove over to Pburg for dinner on Friday night, presumably the busiest night as it is the timeshare crowds last dinner before turnover day. It took us 10 minutes to get to the Simpson Bay Bridge and another 10 to get to the valet at the front door at Antoine Restaurant. We did get to Frontstreet via the shortcut from the rotary on top of Cay Hill. If you are unclear about this, click this link for a map.

Gas Prices at Cadisco are were $1.08 per liter at Orient and $1.05 in Sandy Ground, a bit over $4 per gallon in late March. They still do 1 to 1 for cash. The Gess stations have reopened and sell gas at 0.95€, but they are doing $1.35/€, so that is about $1.30 per liter. The Texaco near the airport is doing 2.1 Nfl per liter and giving 1.8 Nfl/$. That is $1.17 per liter. The Shell stations usually charge the same amount (it's government regulated) but use a worse exchange rate, not that anybody does the exchange calculation correctly anyway.

Iguana   Nature: We finally got a picture of the iguana sunning himself next to the ghut between Marigot and Hameau on the way to Grand Case. The ghut is the generally dry drainage ditch that runs out from Columbier and down toward Friar's Bay. This guy has been seen there many times right next to the road, oblivious to traffic. He doesn't mind cars but when I parked and walked back for a photo shoot, he hid. So, on a sunny day about noon, we drove by and saw him. We turned at Columbier and drove back snapping photos, turned at the entrance to Friar's Bay and headed back. We actually stopped the car on the other side of the road for more photos. It turns out there were three iguanas there, none of them left, but I could only get two in the frame at once.   Iguanas

Small island story: Holiday, the Windward Islands Police Commissioner who was arrested and relieved of his duties, will go to court in late April for forging immigration documents. This is related to Marcel Loor, the former head of immigration, who is now serving a four year sentence in Curaçao. Holiday proclaimed his innocence after his arrest. Similarly, Marsdin, head of immigration at the airport, proclaimed his innocence after his recent arrest.


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 1.544. Today it is at 1.577. That is 2-3% and this has caused our list of restaurants offering 1 to 1 to decrease sharply this week. 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 a 50 to 60%% premium, there isn't any profit left. California Restaurant, Kokomarina, Ti Bouchon, 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. The menus at Pirate Beach Bar and Baywatch are in dollars, no conversion necessary. The last time I was at Baywatch, however, a mysterious 15% charge was added to my bill. I called it a tip.

Hibiscus Restaurant
On Monday evening we returned to Hibiscus Restaurant in Grand Case. It was a very slow evening because Easter Monday is a major party day at the beach. We walked into an empty restaurant and Franco offered to make us a special mini-tasting menu. We ordered a bottle of 2006 B&G Chateauneuf du Pape and shortly thereafter a bit of creamy polenta with parmesan shavings and some grilled artichoke hearts drizzled with truffle oil arrived. Our next course was risotto with Italian sausage surrounded by grated Parmesan. We stopped at the osso bucco, tender veal shank with a wonderful red sauce featuring onions, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, lemon, olive oil, wine, and more with crisp potatoes and a bit of broccoli. It was all delicious and wonderful with a big wine like out Chateauneuf. We had espressos and as only one other table had come and gone, Franco and Alessandro (his wife and hostess) sat down over a few grappas. It appears that I had enough grappa to volunteer to do a website for the group of restaurateurs that participate in the cooking competitions. Our dinner with a $60 bottle of wine came to a bit over $150 and we added a $30 tip, so this was a bit more expensive than the dinners I mentioned last week but this was three full courses rather than our usual ap and two entrees. Franco uses $1.3/€ and this keeps his prices competitive with the best restaurants on both sides of the island.

Creamy Polenta
Topped with Parmesan shavings

Risotto with Italian Sausage

Risotto with Italian Sausage
surrounded by grated Parmesan

Osso Bucco

Osso Bucco
Tender Veal Shank

Our hosts

Our hosts
Franco and Allessandra

Momo at Ti Bouchon   On Wednesday we drove over to Cul de Sac to see Momo at Ti Bouchon. He still doesn't have email and phones are most unreliable down here. He is doing fine, the restaurant is looking better than ever with new table cloths and fresh paint, and he is still doing 1 to 1. More accurately, his menu is priced in dollars. We had a pre-dinner drink and headed over to Grand Case

We parked in the central parking lot and as we walked past Bistrot Caraïbes, Amaury was pulling a lobster out of his tank. I used to live on Cape Cod. We didn't buy lobsters in cans or store live ones in the refrigerator for days on end. We bought them live from a lobster tank. They taste better that way.

  Amaury and a fresh lobster

Le Cottage Restaurant
We walked on down to Le Cottage Restaurant and, as usual, had Stéphane (the wine steward) bring a wine as an aperitif. It turned out to be a 2005 Gewürztraminer from the Château de Riquewihr in Alsace, a lovely wine but not really as spicy (gewürz means spicy in German) as I expected. Some wonderful house-made breads and a ramekin of good butter arrived, followed by a tuna tartare lagniappe - great tender tuna with crisp carrots and peppers in a small glass. We ordered the scallop carpaccio as a starter (right). It arrived with fried shallot rings. The conceit is that it looks like a miniature submarine sandwich with onion rings. Stéphane brought out Bouchard's Chardonnay Bourgogne. The House of Bouchard has certainly improved their offerings over the last decade. This is a non-vintage wine, blended to be consistent from year to year. It is inexpensive and food-friendly, a perfect complement to the scallops. For our main course, Martha had the duck three ways: sautéed breast and foie gras with a leg and thigh confit. The problem with duck legs is that they love to swim and exercise those legs. Consequently, they must be slow roasted, in this case immersed in plenty of duck fat, before they are tender and tasty. Done right, it is fabulous - and it was.
Sashimi scallops

Sashimi scallops
with sesame crusted pastry
and fried scallion rings

Duck Three Ways

Duck Three Ways
Breast, foie gras, and leg confit

Tournedos Rossini

Tournedos Rossini
Beef tenderloin and on the side
haricots verts wrapped with French bacon
topped with foie gras accompanied by frites

Chocolate Souflée

Chocolate Souflée
with macaroons and a caramel fan

My dinner was steak frites, way upscale, or tournedos Rossini rearranged. The frites were the tiniest bit of fried potatoes, more like potato shoestrings which are so wonderful because as you make the fry smaller, the ratio of crispy fat on the outside to starch on the inside increases causing one's limbic brain to recall past famines and respond positively. The steak was filet mignon, a bit over the top for steak frites but perfect for tournedos Rossini. The Rossini refers to an Italian opera singer who liked foie gras on his filet mignon, which was usually wrapped with bacon to keep it ever more tender and juicy. In this case, the chef wrapped the bacon around tender haricot verts and topped that with the foie gras. Stéphane brought a 2004 Château Poliane from the Cote de Bourg across the Garrone River from the great houses of Bordeaux. They are close but not the same. Nonetheless, when well made in good years, they are wonderful even with three years of age, a perfect accompaniment for duck and steak. Stéphane tastes hundreds wines, chooses the good ones, and I place my trust in him.

We generally eschew dessert, but Bruno is justifiably proud of his souflées. We went with chocolate and an ethereal souflée arrived with a bit of chocolate sauce that gets poured into the hole poked into the top of the souflée. In a word: wonderful, especially when accompanied by a chilled tawny port. We ended the evening with an XO Calvados and pondered our good luck. Our dinner cost $156, although the calva was comped, and we felt compelled to leave a tip on top of the bill, despite being in France. Bottom line: great service, fabulous food, and Stéphane bringing inexpensive but perfectly matched wines to your table.

Tropical Wave
We had lunch and a loaf on the beach at Tropical Wave on Galion Beach on Thursday. Lunch was with the proprietor, Pat Turner, who has been in the news for many things lately. First there was the Oyster Bay Beach Resort (OBBR) attempt to bus their patrons, umbrellas, cooking facilities, music, etc to the northern end of Galion next to Tropical Wave. They claimed they had permission from the French authorities who actually own (but do not maintain) a section on the southern end of the beach. The lack of maintenance was what caused OBBR to come to the beach that Pat maintains. OBBR did bring port-o-potties but real toilets at Pat's restaurant were much more inviting. A few confrontations with OBBR patrons carrying their drinks in from outside and attempting to use the facilities and a few letters to the editors and press releases in papers on both sides of the island got this daily invasion to stop.
  Tropical Wave
Next is the recently announced court case wherein the French side claims to have won the rights to all of the land around La Galion. This goes way back. There was quite a hotel complex here pre-Luis (1995) and not much post-Luis. Pat had the watersports concession from the hotel and started it back up despite the ruins around him and added a restaurant. The owners sold the ruins to fine gentleman with big plans for $16 million. One of the stories that I have heard is that he borrowed the $16 million in France, shipped it way offshore, and got $2 million of drug money delivered to the owners before the whole thing fell apart. The bank who lent now-unreachable fine gentleman the now-disappeared $16 million feels they have a claim on the property, the previous owners claim they never got their money so their claim is valid, the French government (at least the local version) has laid claim to the whole thing, and Pat is the only one who has done anything with the property for more than a dozen years. I don't know how much and who should be believed in all this, but it is part of the lure and lore of this fine dual country. No doubt shenanigans like this provided at least deep background for Anthony Bourdain's Bone in the Throat and it's follow-up, Gone Bamboo.
There was also the Regatta. Pat, as usual, took Tryst, his 40 year old trimaran, out and was doing quite well in the first race, making 15-20 knots with a 25 knot breeze when he was dismasted. He thinks he just oversailed the old boat. Tryst does not even have an auxiliary engine, so she was towed in. Pat switched to a competitor's boat for the next two races and was part of the crew that came in second, not a bad ending for having been dismasted. Current plans are to approach Pfizer to see if a Viagra sponsorship might be possible. I can see the tie-in and I'd love to read that proposal. That is a pre-race photo on the right taken from Galion Beach with St Barts in the background.   Tryst, in better times
Finally, there were the big waves over Easter weekend. They started on the Wednesday before the weekend and reached a peak on Good Friday, when most of the island has the day off - by law, the Dutch side is closed, except for restaurants, taxis, etc. Cruise ships, however, don't take Easter off, so all those people heading to the French side found Orient Beach closed and many of them ended up at Galion, because the beach is protected by a reef and a peninsula. There were 15 foot waves to be seen, but barely ripple on Galion Beach.
Shrimp salad Mahi plate
However, this is in the restaurant section, so we did have our usual rosé on the beach. This time a Saint Roche, under 20€. The special of the day was fresh salmon baked en papillote, or at least en aluminum foil, as parchment is in short supply in these parts. This method does keep the fish moist and if veg, spices, onions, etc are inside the package, the result can be quite tasty. Pat had this and looked happy. Martha had the shrimp salad (left) and I had the mahi plate (right). No complaints here either. On this date Pat was using $1.3/€, so two lunches and a bottle of wine came in under $70. Unfortunately, he is bumping it up to 1.4 as he is buying euros at 1.6 to the dollar. It's a beach bar, but has a nice little wine list, real plates, real flatware, and views of St Barts to the SW. Moreover the service is friendly and competent.

Antoine Restaurant
Friday night at Antoine Restaurant on the water in Philipsburg was divine. As noted, the drive over a breeze and valet parking makes it even better. We had reservations and Jean-Pierre had saved us a waterfront corner table. The boardwalk now goes past Antoine and they have planted many palm trees on their section of the beach and added chairs, umbrellas, and tables topped with palapas. You don't notice much more than a few palm trees as you gaze out from the raised restaurant to the wide expanse of Great Bay, but when the big waves were closing beaches on the French side, these chairs and tables were full! There is a photo on the menu page taken during one of our lunches here.

This night, however, was quite calm. We ordered water and a bottle of the 2002 Savigny-Les-Beaune from Bouchard ($51). JP remarked that he had a hard time selling this as most of his customers headed for the Bordeaux page. Their loss is my gain as a five year old Burgundy is getting a bit rare on this island. We started with the Scallops Nantaise, tender sea scallops with shallots in white wine and lemon butter. There is no photo as this is white on white: tender white scallop slices, in a rich white sauce, all in a scallop-shaped (and scallop-colored) dish. It may look plain, but the sauce was so good that Martha, who generally merely samples my appetizer, was soaking up the sauce with a bit of baguette. I had the baked salmon and snapper in a mustard and cream sauce from the menu and Martha had some fresh Mahi with olive oil, shallots, lemon, and onion. Both came with a bit of broccoli, a very tasty cauliflower purée with a bit of texture, a dollop of carrot purée, and rice. I've had the salmon and snapper duo before and the sauce is wonderful. Martha's mahi was fresh as could be and was great with the simple treatment. We passed on dessert and asked for the bill. It was only $143 after the addition of a 15% service charge. Pretty good for good food with a great view and superb service.


topped with a sauce of
olive oil, shallots, lemon, and onion

Salmon and snapper

Baked Salmon and Snapper
in a mustard and cream sauce

L'Auberge Gourmande
Saturday night at L'Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case was a perfect end to a busy week. Saturday nights are usually slow because it is timeshare changeover day. Moreover, Easter week is gone and so are a lot of tourists. There was plenty of room in the parking lot and our choice of three tables on the porch when we arrived at 8PM. As the street noise was minimal, we took a table next to the water on the porch. In this case, the water is the lobster tank and the view is the lovely blue and white gingerbread facade of Le Tastevin across the street. The bad news is that Auberge has recently abandoned 1 to 1 pricing, going to 1.4 to 1. The good news is that you still get a discount off the current value of the euro and you can use your credit card.

We ordered water and a bottle of the 2004 Morey Saint Denis from Marchand. Morey is in the Côte de Nuits, the northern half of the Côte d'Or, named for its main village, Nuit-St-George. The southern part is the Côte de Beaune, named after the ancient capital of Burgundy: Beaune. The vineyards to the north are generally known for their perfume and finesse, while the wines from Beaune are known more body and power. Wine babble aside, Morey is a lovely small village that has made wines than have made me quite happy through the years and this one was no exception. With three years of age, I thought it was a bit young, but Florence said she has a hard time selling older wines. We started with the cream of asparagus soup with a grilled scallop. The photo says it all and if you like asparagus and scallops, you'll love this combination. Our dinners were two old favorites, blackened tuna on crab risotto and the chicken breast stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with a morel sauce. Fresh tuna with a hint of spice and a fine old burgundy makes a wonderful combination. Similarly, the bleu cheese and the rich dark sauce with morels make the chicken an ideal accompaniment for the burgundy. As we are near the end of our visit to the island, we celebrated with the signature dessert of the restaurant, the concerto of three chocolates: white chocolate mousse, hot baked fondant, and iced dark chocolate. The fondant is the molten chocolate cake, ie a cake with a liquid center. We added espressos and Armagnac to finish a magical evening on the porch.


Cream of asparagus soup with a grilled scallop
Cream of asparagus soup
with a grilled scallop

Blackened tuna on crab risotto
Blackened tuna
on crab risotto
Chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese morel mushroom sauce
Chicken breast
stuffed with bleu cheese and
topped with morel mushroom sauce
Concerto of three chocolates
Concerto of three chocolates: white chocolate mousse, hot baked fondant, and iced dark chocolate

Changes: L'Escapade Restaurant has dropped 1 to 1 pricing and gone to $1.25/€. Sunset Café has gone to $1.35€ and Auberge Gourmande is now using $1.4/€. I have heard that Rancho del Sol had gone to $1.2/€ and confirmed it on a recent visit.


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.