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St Maarten/St Martin
8 February 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

big boat   Weather: On Saturday (31 Jan) the power boat on the left crossed in front of an invisible Saba. Super Sunday dawned warm and still with considerable clouds, some dark, but none dripping. It was so still that planes took off to the west, rather than east into the usually prevailing trade winds. The outline of Saba was visible through the haze for the first time in a while. later that day, these sailboats crossed our bow with Saba peeking through the haze behind the larger one. The change in the wind brought a beautiful Monday with the fabulous sunset (below left), but the big rollers started crashing on Cupecoy. They subsided overnight and Tuesday and Wednesday were lovely, but getting hazy and humid at the end.   Afternoon on Sunday
Sunset in Monday   Thursday dawned to pretty clear skies, probably the best view of Saba so far this season. It got a bit hazy in the afternoon, but it got up to 81F, with a few puffy white clouds - perfect. Friday morning looked like it would be squalls all day, but turned out to be a mostly dry day with brisk winds. By evening the rollers had kicked up at Cupecoy and I awoke to the sounds of crashing surf on Saturday. It never got to the surfing stage and the afternoon was lovely, with Statia visible for the first time this season. Sharp eyes could even pick out St Kitts in the distance. At dark:30 on Sunday, as your scribe readied this misssive for the server, it was raining with nary a star visible in a cloudy sky. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Here's the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. We've passed the winter solstice, so for the next six months we'll be getting more sun every day, increasing slowly at first. Sunset today is at 6:07 and the moon is almost full. Tomorrow is the full moon and early days next week will be great for waterfront dining. Full moons for 2009 are 9 Feb, 11 Mar, 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: Cupecoy started this week with lots of sand at the Shore Pointe end, mostly rocks at the middle beach, and about 8 chairs huddled close together in the little cove. Here's some shots of Simpson Bay Beach taken during our Super Bowl Party at the Horny Toad Guesthouse. The shot on the left was taken looking back toward Pelican. The shot in the center was taken looking west toward Beacon Hill and the sun. The shot on the right is a typical sunset here, if it is clear.

Looking east Looking west Looking west, sunset

Beach reading: Having our Superbowl party at The Horny Toad Guesthouse reminded me of The Captain's Fund by Raina Wissing Harris. It's a murder mystery involving diamonds and St Maarten. There are many mentions of and thanks to various locals including The Horny Toad Guesthouse and Geronimo Juliet, the former local police spokesperson. Raina and her husband Steve frequently stay at The Toad and at least once worked as the summer managers when Betty retreats to Maine.   The Captain's Fund

Sax Tours   Activities: If you are new to the island and especially if you are just coming in for one day off a cruiseship, consider a tour from Chocolate Sax Watts. Yes, it's the same Chocolate Sax who sings and plays sax in the evenings at various venues around the island. By day, he'll show you our lovely island.

Diane from Random Wind says, "We've been having a great time on board lately. This week's weather was much better and the brisk winds always make sailing more exciting. We see dolphins almost every day lately. This one swam alongside for about ten minutes."

  Dolphin running alongside Random Wind
Enter the SXM-Info contests for $40 coupon aboard Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you.  

Alcohol: We did a little price checking at the Grand March. All prices are in dollars corrected to 1 liter, although some items were only available in cheaters, not liters: Jack Danial's - $22.50, Gentleman Jack - $30, Jim Beam - $9, Jim Beam Black - $16, Woodford Reserve - $35, Knob Creek - $26, Baker's 7 YO 107 proof - $36, Basil Hayden - $29, Maker's Mark - $42.50, Booker's - $45, Black Bush - $43, Meukow Brandy - $42.50, Courvoisier VSOP - 28, Bowen VSOP - $44, Martel VSOP - $35, Remy Martin VSOP - $42, Frapin VSOP - $44, Chateau Fontpinot Cognac - $74, Delamain - $78, Semp Armagnac - $17, Grey Goose - $30, Aberlour 10 YO - $29, Aberlour 13 YO -$56, Glenfiddach 12 YO - $35, Balvenie Doublewood 12 YO - $53, and McCallan 18 YO - $160. You can check out NH Liquor prices. I find the Bourbons and brandies considerably cheaper, the Grey Goose less so.

Last week I reported on some inexpensive wines from Select Wine Cellar. A bit too inexpensive as I used the wholesale prices. Here are the retail prices: Chteau Puyanch $15.90 and Vila Regia $9.

  Knob Creek

Rainbow Beach   Construction: We've certainly seen that the front part of Rainbow Beach near the road (left) is not changed much since last April and we've seen little activity. This part was not on the plans that we looked at when we were offered the amazing opportunity to buy into a beautiful plot that now reminds me most of the set for Blade Runner. Now we've heard that the project has lost the good graces of the government that looked the other way as they filled in more and more of their plot and reached ever skyward. I can only guess what this means for people who bought in this section, but the classifieds in The Daily Herald tell me that the days of flipping for a fast buck have faded into the past.

The construction site on the east side of Billy Folly Road where Splash was located was supposed to be a seven-story structure, a bit out of character in that neighborhood of two- or three-story buildings. (Admittedly, the rather tall Atrium is across the street.) The neighbors have complained and a judge has halted construction - for now.

On Wednesday morning we noticed some action on the roof of Caravanserai. Much of the highest section of roof is now in place, but there is still a lot of roof to be done. We saw workmen up there again on Friday. Blue Mall was pouring concrete for a floor and beam system above their underground parking on the east side of their high rise. The Putzmiester was on the scene. There was a big puff piece in the Daily Herald claiming that it will open next December and that the luxury condos are 60% sold. Cupecoy Yacht Club has blocked off the lagoon and dewatered their marina. They are now using excavators to dig out the fairly dry dirt to make room for the yachts. There are new photos on the construction feature.

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in low season (starting 15 April) for $1000 per week. The rental includes about $500 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.

  ginger

Shopping:: Pascal and Karen, owners of Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case, have opened a Blanc du Nil outpost on Frontstreet in Philipsburg. It's across from the Guavaberry Emporium and features 100% Egyptian cotton fashioned into tan-enhancing white clothing.   Blanc du Nil

Groceries: We did a little price checking on cheese prices. All prices are per pound in US dollars using 1.75 NAfl/$ and 1.3$/. The Grande March is in Cole Bay on the Dutch side, US Imports is on the outskirts of Marigot near the French Bridge, and iGourmet is on the internet. With the internet, one always must ask about shipping charges. The website actually has a button to calculate shipping before you click the checkout button - always nice. Their shipping actually goes down if you order more! It's pretty outrageous on a half pound, but quite reasonable on a couple pounds. Of course, it all pales into insignificance compared to a flight to SXM, despite the rather good airfares at this time.

Cheese

 
Cheese Grande March US Imports iGourmet
Beaufort N/A $17.07 $32.00
Brillat Savarin N/A $11.17 $22.00
Cantal $7.48 $7.62 N/A
Chaumes $17.88 $15.30 $17.98
Comt $7.83 $11.76 N/A
Epoisses N/A N/A $36.00
Fourme d'Ambert $7.06 $8.21 $14.00
Morbier N/A $9.40 $14.00

My conclusions are that French cheesemakers aren't doing a 1 to 1 exchange rate for the Grande March. If you want French cheeses, you will pay what the French cheesemakers want and the price will be essentially the same on both sides of the island. The only one that is way out of line is the Comt and that may be explained by quality. Also, if you want a larger selection, you have to go to the French side.

Small island story: While writing the cheese section above, it struck me a little strange that the major supermarket on the English-speaking Dutch side uses a French name: Grande March. If you cross the border to the French side, the two markets that act as bookends on Marigot are Match on the east side and US Imports on the west. Not only are are these English words, but one of them even uses US in its name.

Travel: Last week in this spot we had a photo of an American Airlines plane coming in low. Here is a more recent photo of an Air France Airbus coming in a bit low. It looks as if the woman on the right is about to grab the plane's front tire.

  Airplane

Male Lesser Antillean Bullfinch   Nature: This is a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (male on left, female on right). They are found in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, heavily degraded former forest, and our balcony.

Traffic: seems lighter than usual, but Simpson Bay still gets crowded from 11:00 until 12:30 and again in the late afternoon, especially heading east.

  Female bullfinch


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 28 December to 1 March 2009
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
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more


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. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining accommodations with dinners and activities.

Future Contests:

1 March to 26 April 2009
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
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more



RESTAURANTS


On 1 Feb the euro was at 1.282. Today it is at 1.292. It's been rather steady lately. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. We had a lunch at Kokomarina where the menu proclaims 1 to 1. Le France in Marigot's Marina Royale is doing 1 to 1 also. We'll let you know as we hear from more of them.

Ti Bouchon Restaurant
We drove out to Cul de Sac on Saturday evening for a lovely dinner on the porch with Momo at Ti Bouchon Restaurant. In the beginning, this was supposed to emulate the bouchons in Lyon that served good, hearty, yet inexpensive, local fresh food with a river of local red wine. Obviously, as nothing is local here on the island, that part of the similarity was bypassed, but food similar to what was available in Lyon made it to the table in St Maarten. In order to be inexpensive, that meant long cooking of more inexpensive cuts of meat and other culinary feats that turn a sow's ear into, if not a purse, at least something edible and quite tasty. Over the years, however, Momo has upgraded the menu so that it now rivals the best restaurants on the island. It is still a small menu, only about a half dozen aps, meat, fish, and dessert courses with a few specials, but very interesting.

We ordered water and two flutes of champagne and looked over the menu. We choose a special as our ap: steamed moules in white wine with parsley, red pepper, and onions, finished with a bit of cream (center, below). While we finished our champagne, Momo brought out springrolls stuffed with shredded duck breast (left, below) accompanied by a sauce something like a meurette, but with a hint of cumin. It was quite an extravagant lagniappe, and not just for us, as everyone got them.

  Laporte Pinot Noir
The wine list is similarly small, about 30 bottles, but well chosen. Momo forces me out of my Burgundy rut by having very little. I still chose Pinot Noir and got this Laporte ($35). Momo says that Laporte started in Sancerre, an area so far up the Loire Valley that it is essentially south of Paris (Loire Valley map). It's known more for white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, but they do make some nice red wines also. Laporte bought some vineyards in the south of France that had been planted to Pinot Noir. Rather than make them in the Burgundian style, they used their approach from Sancerre, and even though this was a 2007 vintage, they have produced a quite drinkable wine with a mere year or so in the bottle. It got even better as the bottle warmed up in the soft night air on the porch. There are few things as pleasant as fresh, plump mussels in a tasty broth, especially with a light pinot noir.

Martha chose the shrimp dish featuring six jumbo shrimp arranged around a napoleon composed of carrot mousse, almond polenta, and zucchini flan ($29). I had the braised lamb shank held upright by a dollop of olive-infused mashed potatoes ($27). The sauce was much like the sauce used on the earlier lagniappe, which was fine with me as Martha and I like cumin, especially with lamb. Again, the wine was quite nice with the flavors that Momo presented. Dessert was beyond our ability, so we finished with coffees. Our total bill was $132, not bad for a meal of this quality. In this case, you are paying more for the food and less for the emporium. It's quite cute, clean, and freshly-painted, but you are dining on an open-air porch with a limited view.

Now that the Radisson has opened in Anse Marcel, Ti Bouchon is getting pretty busy. Reservations would be helpful, as there are few tables.

Duck roll Moules Lamb shank

Shieka's Bistro
While shopping in Philipsburg, we stopped into Shieka's Bistro for some authentic local food. The bistro serves breakfast and lunch and Betty Richardson gets up at 4:30 in the morning to put it all together. Martha chose a pork chop (right) and added mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) and provision (yucca and green banana). I had the tasty jerk chicken with mixed vegetables, rice and peas, and potato salad. Needless to say, I added a bit of hot sauce to the rice and peas. The heat was assuaged by the liberal use of several glasses of fresh squeezed passionfruit juice. Shieka's is a bit difficult to find, but head down Front street to Pastoriesteeg (which runs between Majesty Jewelers and Liz Claiborn) past the Catholic Rectory to the Philipsburg Community and Cultural Center. Have a great, authentic, and very inexpensive lunch.

 

Jerk Chicken Shieka's logo Pork chop

 
SkipJack's
Twice in the last week we have been caught on the wrong side of the bridge in Simpson Bay. The first time was on the 11:00 opening, a bit early for lunch, but Skipjack's was open, and as they are a restaurant and seafood market, we bought some great tuna for our dinner and headed home on the 11:30 opening. On Tuesday we got caught on the 11:30 opening and decided it was lunch time. The view from the open-air, lagoon-front dining room is only one of the reasons to dine here. They did just win the best seafood award from the readers of the Daily Herald and we chose a spicy calamari salad and the fish and chips (right). The lunches were under $15 each and a very nice bottle of Pinot Grigio brought our lunch to about $50.

 

  Fish and chips

SkipJacks'panorama

 

Restaurant Le Cottage
On Wednesday we headed over to Grand Case with some friends for their final meal on the island. They had been here last year and were quite pleased with Le Cottage and we were more than happy to join them. We had made reservations early, requesting a table on the terrace, and it was waiting for us. The interior is quite lovely in a striking modernist way (see the photos on the website, if you wish), but we have always liked winter evenings on the terrace in the warm night air. Summers may be better in the air conditioned interior.

We started with a glass of Viognier as an aperitif and the chef sent out a glass of tasty gazpacho. My appetizer was a plate of quail eggs in a meurette sauce (below left - 11). Meurette sauce is a dark concentrated essence of red wine, stock, and vegetables. Eventually, the eggs are poached in the sauce and served with toast. Our tablemates shared the taste of shrimp (14), large shrimp with a tomato "Bruschetta", tomato gazpacho, olives, and fresh anchovies.

Our dinner wine was a 2000 Chteau de Chantegrive for a mere 44. That's a very good price for a Graves with this age. The 2000 vintage was rated a 96 (!) and really should not be drunk yet, but a bit of aeration in the decanter led to a wonderful experience.

  Chteau de Chantegrive
Quail eggs in meurette sauce Duck special
Our tablemates had the duck breast (with red cabbage cooked in port wine, mashed potatoes drizzled with truffle oil, and a bit of duck tartar with pear - below left - 26) and the beef tenderloin (with cabbage and potato cooked in butter, beef cheek raviolis, vegetable kebabs, and a red wine sauce - below center - 28), both off the menu. Martha had a special that featured sea scallops supported by an asparagus risotto surrounded by an asparagus velout with sesame crackers (a single scallop and its support system is shown to the right). I had the duck breast special (above right) that featured duck breast (of course) and truffles distributed throughout the dish.

There was a birthday involved so a dessert was required, hold the candle, and no singing. Le Cottage has a pastry chef who works magic with soufles. There are several varieties, but chocolate was our request. It comes out looking lovely with a small cup of extra chocolate. Poke a hole in the soufle, pour in the sauce, and grab your spoons. Total cost was about $150 per couple.

  Scallop
Duck breast Beef tenderloin  

L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant
Wendy K stopped into L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant for a lunch on the waterfront in Marigot: "It really is a pretty place, and it was interesting watching at least 20 tour buses either park near the ferry or pass by. The service was good and Madame warmed up when I spoke French with her. Tony had the kangaroo steak with peppercorn sauce (left). It was tender and delicious and tasted like beef, with just a slight hint of something different. I can't resist trying a "new" tartare de boeuf. While I still prefer to mix my own and leave out the olive oil and mayo, this was pretty tasty. Both were 15. The least expensive Burgundy was 25, so the total came to 55, or a bit over $70. The bill said a tip was not included."
Beef tartare   Logo   Beef tartare

News and Changes: We dropped off some copies of the St Maarten Events magazine at Ti Sucrier, as we had received a recipe from Sylvain for our article in this issue. He has made the restaurant even prettier than the photo I had included in the article: new napery and new lighting. We promised to stop in soon for more of his fine cuisine.

It appears that the Blue Martini on Airport Road in Simpson Bay will be presenting semi-famous musicians: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band with Eddie and the Cruisers on 22 Mar and Firefall and Al Stewart on 11 April.

Sopranos is featuring Diana De Prez this month. She's been compared to Janis Joplin and her repertoire includes Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Annie Lennox, Dido, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and more.

Karakter, on Simpson Bay Beach near Mary's Boon, is having a beach dance at 6:30 on the first Friday of every month.

There was an article in the NY Times about changes in restaurant policies brought about by the current financial troubles. I haven't seen too many of these changes here, but then again no restaurant here ever got as snooty as those in NY.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


This year's Art in the Park will take place today Sunday, 8 Feb, at Emilio Wilson Park, past the Texaco at the Pburg roundabout. Parking costs $1 and the proceeds go toward maintaining the park. There will be lots of local crafts, some music, and a few beers.

Tuesday Night in Grand Case: Grand Case is again having a Harmony Night on Tuesday. Restaurant Row will be blocked off and filled with street vendors, music, dancers, and parades. Here's some photos from previous years.

  Our condo: We are here until 15 April and have a good bit of the following two months rented already. The condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April 2009 to 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season that is available will be $1500 per week. It will be unavailable from 15 January 2009 until 15 April 2009. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. The rate is so good and the coupons are so popular that we get about 60% occupancy in the low season (we are already at 30%). If you want a week, it's best to book early.

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed as our preferred medical travel insurance partner. Any medical travel insurance will get you back to the US, but SkyMed takes you home. Where's home? From their website: "Our definition of home is simple: Home is where you say it is. When struck by the unexpected, our service takes you home.  

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attach trial.

 

  Our article featuring four recipes from four restaurants from Cupecoy to Sandy Ground has been published in St Maarten Events and is available on the island. Look for a moules appetizer from Mario's Bistro, a vichyssoise from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. I had taken several photos for the article and Michael Dingemans, the publisher, was on the island just before high season taking more photos. As always, his wife, Carina, turned it into a beautiful layout. The magazine is distributed free throughout the island and contains a useful island map as the centerfold.

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well.

 

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
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear

Mario's Cookbook   The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is still available online. 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.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.

The Horny Toad Guesthouse was proclaimed the "Best Guesthouse" in the Daily Herald's readers poll. It has eight lovely rooms on the beach in Simpson Bay.
  On the beach at the Toad