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St Maarten/St Martin
13 September 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: It's been warm and with hurricanes or tropical storms coming close, a bit humid if not rainy. This last week was reaching the upper 80's every day, and only dropping back into the upper 70's at night. Historically, September is the worst month for hurricanes and we just passed the fourteenth anniversary (Sep 5) of Hurricane Luis. Keep an eye on Storm Carib to see where the tropical storms are and which may become hurricanes. The box shows the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 6:13 and the moon is a waning crescent. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast We are approaching equinox (22 Sep) when everybody gets 12 hours of sunlight. Full moons for 2009 are 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec. In 2010: 30 Jan, 28 Feb, 29 Mar, 28 Apr, 27 May, 26 Jun, 25 Jul, 24 Aug, 23 Sep, 22 Oct, 21 Nov, and 21 Dec.   Plumeria

Friars Bay   SXM-Beaches: There was a favorite beach thread on TTOL and, not surprisingly, Orient was mentioned the most. If you want CO (clothing optional) with a lot restaurants and activities, it's your only choice. The only other CO beaches are Cupecoy and Happy Bay, although naked people have been spotted elsewhere at times. One beach mentioned frequently was Friars Bay. The drive in is bumpy and parking may be tight, but it is a very pretty beach with a view to the west. That means afternoon sun and a possibility of a lovely sunset while looking over the water. There are a couple beach bars that serve decent food and as the photo shows, they have chairs and umbrellas. The water is generally calm, especially compared to other beaches on the Anguilla channel.

Beach reading: The NY Times had a rather long article by Michaeal Pollan entitled Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch. The article started by mentioning the movie Julie and Julia based on Julie Powell's blog about cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Childs Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. The article had several interesting comments on cooking and cooking shows. Much as Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma blamed the radical changes in farming over the last 50 years on postwar conversion of explosives plants into fertilizer plants and nerve gas plants into insecticide plants, he charges that the food companies took their k-rations and converted them into convenience meals: Swanson TV dinners to be consumed while watching more ads on TV for TV dinners. He notes that obesity correlates better with with time spent cooking (inversely) than it does with females in the work force or class. In other words, if you let someone else do your cooking, they will add plenty of the feel-good (but cheap) ingredients (salt, sugar, and fat) and you will eat more "food" because it's easier. His book discusses the origins and consequences of four meals, one of which was at The Farmers Diner in Vermont. It's notable for attempting to source food locally.   Omnivore's Dilemma Cover

Activities: We've just signed up Reve Marine for a page on SXM-Activities again. If you want anything on the water (or even underwater), Pascal Reverberi can supply it: power boats, sail boats, water skiing, fishing, diving, trips, etc. While it looks as if Pascal is using part of his name as part of the company name, reve in French means dream.

Diane from Random Wind says: "This summer a new bowsprit jumping record was set. 86 year old Bill Noyes jumped off the bowsprit into the Caribbean Blue! We are having so much fun it is hard to remember that this is work. I think I have the best job in existence. We just finished testing and fine tuning the Tarzan swing and it is a big hit! Captain Trevor has figured out how to secure the spinnaker pole and rig up a ski rope so we can safely swing from it into the water. The middle shot is our full-time Captain, Trevor John Williams, a British born long time sailor. The last shot perhaps once a trapeze artist?! 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."

Bill Noyes Trapeze artist Captain Trevor

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo is available for the next 30 days for $100 per night. A week's rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients, including one for $50 off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island. 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

pork   Groceries: On the left is a variation on the Salade Nioise. We frequently find pork tenderloin for sale at the Grand March at a lower price than pork chops. We generally cook a whole tenderloin for dinner, but there is plenty left over for a wonderful lunch on our balcony overlooking Saba. This one features romaine lettuce, boiled potatoes, red peppers (inexpensive when one buys the roasted version in jars), and a few hard boiled eggs. This version is good with a ros, but when Martha jazzes up the meat by heating it up in some hot spices, we go with a zinfandel.   pork
Alcohol: On our recent visit to Boston, we stopped in at the Wine Cask on the Cambridge-Somerville line. They were having their quarterly 20% off sale and had some interesting Ripasso. Amarone della Valpolicella is a rich Italian dry red wine made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina (40.0% 70.0%), Rondinella (20.0% 40.0%) and Molinara (5.0% 25.0%) varieties. Originally it was made by accident and the first recorded sale was in the late 30's. No official records were kept until the early 50's when the production was purposeful. It did not receive its own DOC status until 1990. Ripasso is produced when partially aged Valpolicella is contacted with the lees of the Amarone, including the unpressed grape skins. The lees still contain sugar and the Valpolicella undergoes a second fermentation. The resulting wine is more tannic, with a deeper color, more alcohol and more extract. As the Wine Cask says, "This is an excellent BBQ wine and also fine with lamb from the grill." On the island, Il Nettuno Restaurant and Gondola Restaurant have the largest lists of Italian wines.   Ripasso

Sugarbirds   Nature: While harvesting mushrooms during our rather rainy summer, I also found this snail. The mushrooms are boletes, cepes in French, porcini in Italian. One summer we actually made snail and mushroom pizzas after a morning of foraging. I confess that the snails came in a can. On the island the place to go for snails is L'Escargot Restaurant, of course. They have seven different snail appetizers and a sampler plate for the indecisive. As for snail and mushroom pizza, good luck.

Traffic: They have finished working on the Midass roundabout at the bottom of the hill in Cole Bay. It was not without some problems as truck drivers were unsure of where they should drive. It appears that they would avoid a raised brick area by driving into oncoming traffic. The government lowered the bricks and attempted to educate the truck drivers. I'd approach the roundabout slowly for a while. The complete story is here. The work on the Dutch bridge is also finished.

Small Island story: Caribbean repair comes in two parts. If it moves and it shouldn't, duct tape (although now hot melt glue is frequently used). If it doesn't move and it should, WD-40. I believe I mentioned this a bit earlier this year. I mention it again because the man who popularized WD-40, John S. Barry, died recently. The name WD-40 is made up from its original use for Water Displacement in the space program and the fact that it was the 40th formulation of the secret ingredients that became the final product.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 26 July to 25 October 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:

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 July the euro was at $1.42. Today it is at $1.459. It doesn't look like much, but it's almost a 3% change in six weeks. A new high season is arriving and I will no longer post restaurant exchange rates until I hear from the restaurants again. Frankly, at this point no restaurant could still be in business selling 40% below other restaurants. You'll find that the overall cost is more dependent on the location and quality of the food than on the exchange rate. Until recently charging your credit card in dollars saved the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging. Recently my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I now use a Capital One card.

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
L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant
Reopened on 22 June
Rancho del Sol 21 August - 1 October
Tropical Wave Open all Summer 9:30-5:00
Mondays closed between Sept. 1st and Nov. 1st

Bistro Nu
Recently there was an article by Roger Cohen in the NY Times entitled "Advantage France". It talked about the difference between the American approach to food and the French approach. In short, the French are more hands on, or hands in, as the article opens with a hand sliding the innards from the belly of a sea bass in the market of Vernon in Normandy. Martha called my attention to the article the morning after our previous night's dinner of rognon in mustard sauce, featuring the kidneys from one of the hogs that I had slaughtered a few days earlier. I have been saving a review of this visit to Bistro Nu and this seems like the moment to bring it out. The restaurant is in Marigot on a pedestrian street across from the Stadium on Rue du Holland. A new chef has recently purchased the restaurant, but the menu has remained much the same. There is always a chalk board of specials and some things don't make it to the English version, so we always ask for the French board.

Menu board
French Onion Soup Conch salad
These photos are from Wendy K who had a great dinner here late last season. Above left is the French onion soup and next to that is a conch salad. The menu has always had a Crole section, well represented by the crabback (below left). In the center is a seabass, much like that in Roger Cohen's article. On the right is rognons de veau. Veal kidneys are mild, but I can assure you that our pig kidneys were as mild as any I have tasted. Good living conditions for the pigs with plenty of clean water make them mild and refrigerating them within two hours keeps them that way. Bistro Nu makes old standards using tasty, under-utilized ingredients and charges reasonable prices. Check out the menu board (it's in euros) and you'll see that most aps are under $15 and most main courses are under $30. It's a cute little place with parking available at the stadium. However, as it is little, reservations would be helpful, but now that the street is a pedestrian zone, they have added some tables outside.
Crabback Seabass Veal kidneys

Champagne Snack Bar
On one of our last days on the island we met Marina from Select Wine Cellar for lunch next door at Champagne Snack Bar. Marina and I had a special of shrimp and scallops and Martha had a Salad Nioise. Marina brought over a delightfully chilled bottle of Riesling from Weinbach. Marina has since sold her interest in the wine shop and opened a shop for baby clothes. Sylvain is now running the wine shop.
  Terrace
shrimp and scallops Nioise Wine

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

We always save *Saratoga* in Simpson Bay for our last evening. The setting is beautiful, the service impeccable and the food excellent. Of particular note were the spicy red snapper seviche and the salmon in puff pastry.

When we are looking for more casual dining but with good food we enjoy *Marty's Gyro *or *Toppers* literally back-to-back on the Airport Road in Simpson Bay. The burgers and salads at the *Sapphire Beach Club Bar *are very good with the burgers actually cooked rare if you request. Also the *Buccaneer Bar* next to the Atrium on the road to the Pelican is a nice change of pace.

For breakfast we always enjoy *Mary's Boon* for Jeanette's American breakfast and *Zee Best* in Simpson Bay for their omelettes and croissants. After hearing poor reviews for several years, we returned in November to *Turtle Pier* and found it even better than we had remembered. Other breakfasts were enjoyed at *The Bagel House* in Simpson Bay and *Belle Epoque Restaurant* on the Marina Royale.

News and Changes: In the last newsletter we mentioned that Kokomarina had rather nice salads on the Orient Beach. Contessa wrote to say that she had heard the restaurant had been sold. I wrote to Zuzu who said that Marina (her daughter) and Koko (Marina's mate) had, indeed, sold the restaurant. All is not lost, however. First, Zuzu's nephew who was the chef bought the restaurant with Nat from Le String and Brice Paradise as a partner. Presumably, the menu will not change much, but the name has changed to Aloha. Second, Koko and Marina will be opening a restaurant in the abandoned building between Coco and Boo Boo Jam. It will be called Palm Beach and have over 200 chairs and a large terrace. It will need extensive renovations as it hasn't been used in over a decade. They look for a mid-December opening.

We also ran a bit from Peter about La Petite Auberge des les in Marina Royale in the last newsletter. Alert reader Ray Mann noted that Bruno and Franoise sold the reastaurant in early May to the former chef of La Plantation and his sister.

Halsey's Restaurant has a 10% discount coupon on their website valid until the end of September. They got a new wine list at the end of high season. I especially liked the Bourgogne, Pinot Noir, Domaine Champs-Perdrix 2004 for $32.

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.

Peg Leg Pub has a 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.

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 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.

  Halsey's


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


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
Halsey's Restaurant
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 over 60% of the time since then and it will be over 45% rented through the end of the year. 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 including one for $50 off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season 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. There's not too many weeks left, so 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.

Kindle: I'm now convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. In the 3 August issue of The New Yorker there was a not entirely favorable review of the Kindle, but what do you expect from somebody who puts ink on paper? The September issue of Cond Nast Traveler had a more favorable article in the Triptech section. 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. 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 and kept us amused as we drove to Boston and back last week.

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