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St Maarten/St Martin
7 June 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: It's getting warm. I've seen 86F at 10:30 in the morning. The beauty of the seabreeze (possibly tradewinds) is that it doesn't get much warmer than that, even in the afternoon. It is the rainy season. The average week has from 20% to 50% chance of precipitation, but remember it generally doesn't cover the entire island. Again, the tradewinds help in that fast moving squalls come across quickly and then it's right back to 86F and sunny. I'm not a Pollyanna, however, when a hurricane approaches it can be gray and moist for days. So keep an eye on Storm Carib to see where the tropical storms are and which may become hurricanes, although the latest rumblings from Dr Grey in Colorado suggest a lower than average number of storms and hurricanes for 2009. Here's the current local conditions Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:44 and the moon is full. Full moons for 2009 are 7 Jun (tonight!), 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.   Sunset

Bay Rouge   SXM-Beaches: Bay Rouge gets its name from the pinkish sand. The Falaise des Ouiseau (bird cliffs) to the west give a hint as to the origin of the color. There are a couple beach bars here and they keep touts in the tower in the parking lot. In addition to trying to sell you chairs, umbrellas, food, and drink, they really do keep an eye on the cars. The beach is a crescent on the north side of the island with the entrance at the eastern edge. There is no sunset view over the winter, but you might get one on a few days over the summer from some spots on the eastern end of the bay.   Bay Rouge

Beach reading: The Fine Art of Italian Cooking: The Classic Cookbook, Updated & Expanded (Hardcover) by Giuliano Bugialli (out of print, get it used for under $10 delivered) - Giuliano Bugialli was born in Florence and grew up in a villa outside the city where his father was the director of one of Italy's large wineries. His family was steeped in the classic tradition of Tuscan cooking, and he developed an early scholarly interest in Italian culinary history. He graduated with degrees in Languages and Literature from the Universities of Florence and Rome and Bugialli traveled to New York in the 70's to teach Italian. Soon, the desire to entertain guests with incomparable meals, as he used to do regularly in Florence, pushed him back to the library and to the stove, until he was able to reproduce in his own American kitchen the finest Italian dishes. This book was first published by the NY Times in 1977 and our friend, Robert Nunnelley, took the photographs.   Giuliano Bugialli Cookbook Cover

Guiliano went on to become quite a famous chef, starting the first English language cooking school in Italy, writing ten books., and starring in a 26 part cooking series on PBS, Bugialli's Italy. The revised text takes into account the changes that have happened in America in the dozen years after the initial printing. American's perceptions of Tuscan cooking certainly changed and the availability of ingredients changed. Thus, entire sections on suitable substitutions for esoteric Tuscan ingredients were no longer needed. Guliani also used his literary training to add a report on the feast served when Maria de' Medici married Henry of Navarre, soon to become King Henry IV of France.

Where to find Tuscan cuisine on the island? Probably the closest to true Tuscan traditions is Spiga at the eastern end of Grand Case. Ciro Russo is in the kitchen and his wife, Lara, runs the front of the house. A little closer to the center of town is Hibiscus Restaurant where Franco Burato has a larger menu that includes many dishes that borrow from Tuscan traditions. This is also a mom and pop operation with Franco at the stove and his wife, Alessandra, in the dining room. In the center of town and more Italian than Tuscan, is Il Nettuno Restaurant, one of the longest running Italian restaurants on the island. Nettuno is Neptune, god of the sea, and a nod to the rather large selection of seafood on the menu. Raymon owns and runs this restaurant with the help of a rather large staff. It sits on a double wide lot with many waterfront tables and great views for everyone. In high season Matteo, strolls, strums, and sings. It's a lively, bustling place. David Foini's Gondola Restaurant at Atlantis Casino in the Dutch Lowlands is another large Italian emporium serving fine Italian cuisine.

 

Activities: Diane from Random Wind says: "We are having a great time on the water, enjoying perfect winds and calm seas. The fishing has been great and the bowsprit continues to be incredibly fun. Not many dare the backflip like me but some will flip forward. While the seas are this calm the snorkeling is so great. Baie Rouge is our favorite spot over near the caves where we see lots of sea life. Join us if you can! Enter the SXM-Info contests for a $40 coupon aboard Random Wind. Five lucky couples win this every year. It might as well be you."

This is the same Bay Rouge noted above in the beaches section. The caves are are at the extreme eastern end of the bay, essentially inaccessable by foot. Some people snorkel around the rock outcropping to them, reaching David's Trou or Grotto. There are photos of the grotto on the Bay Rouge section of SXM-Beaches.

  Random Wind
Random Wind Random Wind  
Construction: How about deconstruction? A judge has ordered Coral beach Club to remove a floor from their building. It appears that they did the usual trick of applying for a building permit for x floors. They then built x plus a few, with or without a change in the permit. The story is that a fee is required for the permit and it is a percentage of the project cost. No fee is required when the permit is modified to add extra stories and cost. In this case, a neighbor whose view was blocked brought suit and the judge told them to demolish the offending story. SXM Private Eye has a photo.

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in really low season (starting 15 June) for $900 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

Blanc du Nil
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. Lovely clothing, perfect for the island.
 
  Ch Bellegrave
Groceries: Here is a chicken salad with a few twists from my chef/wife. We find that thigh meat is more flavorful than the rest of the chicken so we buy a five pound box of frozen thigh meat at Grand March upon our arrival. It goes in the freezer and when we need a meal at home without too much shopping, we break out a few thighs. In this case, they were deboned and cut up. They were then stir-fried in minimal oil with Thai fish sauce and a bit of Thai curry paste - use sparingly. These usually can be found at Grand March, but are always at Sang's at better prices. The salad contains Romaine lettuce, onions, and Roland roasted red peppers from a jar - quite good and they keep forever in the refrigerator. Chicken Salad
We had this bottle of Bellegrave from Select Wine Cellar ($45) with this lunch. This was a great wine, but in truth, it was a not well-paired with the spicy chicken. The Zin from Netco (Montevina or Alderbrook) would have been my first choice with this much spice. However, this was late in the season and we were cleaning out the refrigerator and wine "cellar". Don't feel like cooking? Get some barbecued chicken at the grocery stores. Just cut it up to top off the salad and have a very tasty, and healthful, lunch with minimal prep time and cleanup.

Zen Attitude   Shopping:: Vanessa reports that Zen Attitude, her boutique located at the entrance to California Restaurant, just received a new collection with more colors and choices. Make a day of it and stop in at Tijon Parfumerie at the other end of town, have a lunch at California, La Marine Restaurant, Sunset Caf, or others. These three have chairs on the beach.   Tijon

Fish Eye Shiraz   Alcohol: We came across a sale of Fish Eye boxed wines at the NH Liquor Stores. In recognition of the recession, we tried one. This three liter (four bottle) box was on sale for about $17, or about $4.25 per bottle. It sat on the counter in the kitchen and if we decided on another glass of wine after the usual bottle with dinner, we just opened the spigot. It kept for several weeks and was surprisingly good. We didn't like the box of Fish Eye Chardonnay, but have heard good things about boxes of Hardy's Chardonnay and Black Box Chardonnay (under $5 per bottle recently). I know that Select Wine Cellar, among others, has some wines in boxes. Sylvain said it wasn't bad. Yachting types like them because they are lightweight, unbreakable, store better by getting more product in a given space, and they do it all without rolling around in rough seas. They are environmentally friendly in that a case of glass bottles is about half product and half glass (by weight). Half the energy of shipping (which sends a bit of carbon dioxide into the air) is used merely to transport glass which generally will then be transported to the landfill. The bag-in-a-box wines are about 90% product. If the recession is getting you down, take advantage of cheap airfares and cheap rates on accommodations. Get a condo so you can eat at home at least on some nights and put box of decent wine on the counter. You can get a pizza or great takeout barbecue for almost nothing.

Travel: The June issue of Cond Nast Traveler had an article on Affordable Villa Vacations and SXM got quite mention, as it is less expensive than nearby Anguilla and St Barts. The author, Wendy Perrin, consulted with Marilyn Pulito, owner of Villas in Paradise and ended up at a beachfront villa at Coral Beach Club, presumably not to be torn down. The article mentioned the Butterfly Farm, Grand Case's Harmony Night, and Loterie Farm. She dined at Sol Luna Restaurant (They got a large writeup and photo in the magazine), Auberge Gourmande, and Le Pressoir.

The April issue of Cond Nast Traveler listed the world's top spas. SXM didn't make the list, but the CuisinArt Resort & Spa on Anguilla was the closest one that did. We have visited the resort and had a very nice lunch in part because of the hydroponic greenhouse that provides fresh vegetables and greens, including lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, bok choy, and herbs. The photo on the right shows one of the lovely rooms at the resort and like most photos of Anguilla, they thoughtfully include a shot of SXM in the distance. Ferries criss-cross the short distance (about four miles) between Marigot and Blowing Point in Anguilla every hour, making this a convenient day trip or even an excellent day or two extension to a timeshare week in St Maarten. Other nearby resorts on the list were the Peter Island Resort on Tortola, the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis, and the Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts on St Lucia.

  room and view at CuisinArt resort

Hen and chicks   Nature: We go to Marci's Gym close to the bridge in Simpson Bay almost every morning, arriving just before the 9AM bridge opening blocks off traffic. We almost always park in front of the police station and when we leave we head toward the canal and come back along the waterfront road. As winter turned to spring, this hen appeared along the road with a flock of chicks. I doubt that the fine specimen on the right is the father, as he is a French citizen, found wandering around the Marigot cemetery.   Rooster

Crime: Late last month The Daily Herald reported on a high-level meeting on the French side. The French are worried that the US will put them on a watch list of countries to avoid because of crimes against tourists. The meeting produced some positive steps forward in controlling the current outbreak of crime. An undisclosed number of plain clothed specialized Gendarmes and customs officers will be brought in quickly to bolster the current force. Customs officers in civilian clothes will have the authority to stop and search cars at any time of night. Also, the motorcycle brigade that recently returned to Guadeloupe will be replaced.

The authorities stated that a one million euro investment in 47 surveillance cameras is planned. The first 30 cameras will be installed in high-risk areas of Marigot and Grand Case by the end of this year or early next year and the remaining 17 will be installed in French Quarter, Baie Nettle, and other districts by the end of 2010.

To further compound the problem, the President of the Marigot Merchants Association Ren Mathon suggested there should be more control on helmetless scooter riders as these are the persons committing the crimes. Commandant Loc Baras disagreed and said young scooter riders were not the ones committing most of the serious crimes. Thus, they can't even agree on who is committing the crimes. When Guiliani was Mayor of NY he found that many turnstile jumpers had jumped other things, notably bail on more serious crimes.

Small Island story: The Daily Herald has been ablaze with the political goings-on lately. It seems that Sarah Wescott, current leader of the Democratic Party, and Theo Heylinger, a descendent of the founder of the party and a leading light in the party, are having a spat. Theo has left the party and is forming a new alliance with another party (the National Alliance) and convicted commissioner Louie Laviest. (He is appealing his conviction.) Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten canceled her planned visit to the island and it was announced that there is broad support in the Dutch Parliament to institute a transitional period for St Maarten and to hold off on country status for a while. It's better than daytime television, but harder to follow as many of them have the same family name: "Commissioner of Finance Roy Marlin, Sunday issued a reactions to the letter sent to the Lt. Governor of St. Maarten Franklyn Richards by the National Alliance (NA) leader William Marlin." quoted from the SXM Island Times.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 26 April to 26 July 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:

26 July to 25 October 2009 | 25 October to 27 December 2009
27 December to 28 February 2010 | 28 February to 25 April 2010 | 25 July to 31 October 2010
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 26 April the euro was at $1.324. Today it is at $1.40. It has been a fairly steady climb since the last newsletter. The following restaurants were offering better rates at the beginning of low season. Things can change rapidly, but these places have been holding these rates for some time. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. Pirate Beach Bar's menu is in dollars, no conversion necessary. Momo at Ti Bouchon says his menu is in dollars also. 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. L'Auberge Gourmande is doing $1.2 to 1.

2009 Restaurant Annual Vacations Dates
Bali Bar Closed for September and October
Belle Epoque Restaurant No closing, open every day
California Restaurant Closed on Monday until December
Open every other day for lunch and dinner nonstop
L'Escapade Restaurant No closing, open every night
Montmartre Restaurant No closing, open every night
Tropical Wave Open all Summer 9:30-5:00
Mondays closed between Sept. 1st and Nov. 1st

L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant
One afternoon in April we stopped in at L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant on the waterfront in Marigot for lunch. The restaurant is a few steps above the street and has a nice view over the parking lot and ferry dock to the harbor with Anguilla in the distance. Even better, the hillside coming down from the fort is landscaped and has a series of waterfalls, although this is the Caribbean, so the pumps are not always working. Christian Bardin is the chef and his wife or daughter is in the dining room - our kind of place, not only are the owners there but they are directly responsible for both the food and the service. We ordered some Badoit water and the 2005 Mercurey from Domaine Faiveley (29). It's a lovely wine from southern Burgundy, not the most subtle, but certainly a good pinot with food. Martha had a salad featuring warm goat cheese on toast and most of my fabulous French fries - hand cut and double fried, once in cooler oil to cook them through and a second time in hotter oil to crisp the outside. My main course was the beef tartare, complete with a raw egg in the center. For the less adventurous, the menu includes wonderful thin crust pizzas and a formidable cheeseburger (with the same great fries). Our total bill came to a bit under $80 and half of that was our wine. If you are shopping in Marigot, especially if you are visiting the market, Oizeau Rare is quite convenient, and a welcome respite from crowds.

waterfall Beef tartare Beef tartare

SkipJack's and
Halsey's Restaurant via
the Fullerton Inn Restaurant
  We were coming back from Boston by way of Vermont and were rather hungry as we passed the Fullerton Inn in Chester, Vermont. We had a bottle of Kenwood Old Vines Zin from Lodi ($19) to go with a lightly seared tuna with wasabi and mango chutney and a strip loin. It was a good dinner with a good wine at very good prices. On the island SkipJack's was just voted the best seafood restaurant and although they normally do their yellowfin tuna with a sesame crust and a ponzu dipping sauce, I'll bet you could have it with their great pineapple salsa. I'm sure you could get a dab of wasabi, if you were so inclined. They have the Little Penguin Shiraz for $29. Ryan and Jessica Halsey are from Kansas and so is their 14 oz Angus strip loin ($32). It's served with a Cognac green peppercorn sauce, homemade onion rings, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and sauted vegetables. Halsey's lists the Alderbrook Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California 2003 for $45. It's a great wine and if you rent my condo, you'll get a coupon for a half-price bottle of wine from Halsy's and $50 toward dinner at SkipJack's.   Strip Loin  

View from the bedroom looking over the lagoon to the French lowlands  
Reviews from Peter
a frequent guest at our condo
Peter has rented our condo for about 10 days in November for several years. He uses it to extend his timeshare vacation, generally spending five weeks on the island per year. He dines out frequently and has shared his experiences with me (and now, with you). I'll be adding a couple reviews from Peter to every newsletter over the summer.

  View from the living room over the teak dining table on the balcony to Saba

La Gondola
Peter says: "While we enjoyed many wonderful meals at a number of SXM restaurants, we find that arguably the best food on the island is at *La Gondola* in the Atlantis Casino complex. David and his staff consistently put out exceptional meals in a nice setting. I particularly enjoy the various risottos and pasta creations. It was one of the few restaurants that was crowded during our November visit."

We couldn't agree more. On the right is a duck breast in a four peppercorn sauce with a porcini risotto from our dinner in early March.

  duck breast

Les Boucaniers Restaurant
Peter says: "We always return for multiple visits at *Les Boucaniers* in Baie Nettle. Chef Nicolas and his wife Frances are delightful, the food is excellent and the setting relaxing. We particularly enjoyed the crab and avocado appetizer, the calamari stew, the veal slices with goat cheese stuffed pasta and the grouper on wild mushroom risotto. My wife ended each of her meals with the ice cream bowl consisting of dark rum, rum raisin ice cream, diced pineapple, sliced bananas, chopped almonds and whipped cream.

Another favorite restaurant for us also. Pick a sunny day and have a great lunch on this beach.

Chocolate brownie with rum

News and Changes: Greenhouse Restaurant is bringing in boatloads of Saban lobster and selling them for $19.95 per pound at both locations (Pburg and Simpson Bay). That is the sunset view from the new Greenhouse Restaurant in Simpson Bay.

Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that she is still doing 1 to 1 on the euro and they still take a souvenir photo for you during dinner.

Last week I was talking with Linda Parker from Peg Leg Pub and she asked me to mention their Sunday Brunch. It runs from 11AM until 3PM and costs $34.95 for adults, children 5-12 years old are only $1.50 per year, and children under 5 eat for free. Bloody Marys, Mimosas, and Bellinis are included and this got a great mention on TTOL.

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

  Greenhouse

Sopranos in Maho is featuring Adam Walton on piano in June. Sunday nights are two-for-one Heineken with an open jam session featuring Paps.

The SXM Culinary team chosen to represent island at this year's Taste of Caribbean will be Raymond Southern from Westin, M. Geoffrey from Le Pressoir, Stephane from L'Astrolabe, and Paul Peterson and Dino Jagtiani from Temptation Restaurant. The team manager is John Jackson of Saratoga. Mario Tardif from Mario's Bistro, and Cecille Briaud-Richard from Chanteclair are coaches. The competion will be 12-14 June in Puerto Rico.

I'm hearing a bit of worry from restaurant owners lately. It appears that the high season timeshare owners came down and provided pretty good business for the restaurants, but the low season is looking lower than a snake's belly at this point. I'm guessing it's both fewer tourists and fewer dollars per tourist available for restaurants. David Foini from Gondola Restaurant has yet to open his new establishment in Simpson Bay across from Pineapple Pete's. A few others in this area are rumored to be closing soon and two new developments will be opening with more restaurant space: the new Simpson Bay Yacht Club complex and the new project across the street.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Mambo Loco in the square at Orient Friday Night in Orient Village: Once again Orient Village is bringing in a band and several vendors on Friday evening for a lively time in their square. Mambo Loco was playing in the square as we left the island.

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
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems

  Our condo: We were here until 15 April and have rented almost 90% of the time since then and it will be over 60% rented through the end of July. The condo is available for rent at $900 per week from 16 June until 1 October, and $1000 per week until 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 at $1500 per week. As always any days within the next month are available for $100 each. It will be unavailable from 13 January 2009 until 13 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." We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have.  

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 now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." The new version and is barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Here's a NY TImes review of the Kindle. 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.

 

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.

Fawnette at Azure Beach Studios is taking 20% off bookings from now until 15 November on most rooms. That could be you on the beach. Dominique at Colombus Hotel has offered great rates on her units above Oyster Pond. The Turquoise Shell Inn is offering a special weekly rate for the low season of $700 or $115 per night, taxes included until November 15th.
  Azure's beach