Lowlands Recipes

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Monolith at Cupecoy

Cliffs   Not long ago, the stretch of road passing through "The Lowlands" - between Maho on the Dutch side and the town of Marigot on the French side - was a restaurant dead zone. Visitors staying in the French or Dutch Lowlands, who may have spent the afternoon on the beach at Cupecoy or Baie Rouge, traveled to Grand Case or to Simpson Bay, each with an abundance of restaurant choices, for dinner. In the bad old days, Atlantis Casino hosted a series of short-lived restaurants, as well as a buffet only a gambler could love. La Samanna has graced Baie Longue for years, of course, and its beautifully situated dining room is among the prettiest on the island. The recent addition of dining in the wine cellar is another interesting option. But La Samanna is well established as one of the pinnacles of Caribbean luxury, and most visitors to the island reserve its fine menu and even finer wine cellar for very special occasions. Hurricanes Luis, Marilyn, and Lenny swept away some time-honored restaurants, and most, like those at the lovely Belle Creole resort, were never to return.
Skip ahead to the present. The Lowlands, an area that straddles the Dutch-French border at the southwest margin of the island, has evolved into a restaurant mecca, with a profusion of cuisines, exciting young restaurateurs and chefs, and a range of styles from flip-flop casual to dress-up elegant. Fortunately, visitors need only follow the main road between Maho and Marigot to access the area's culinary treasures. And we have gathered recipes from four of the Lowland's star chefs you will want to make at home. The recipes add up to a simple but elegant meal you can serve as an edible souvenir of your trip.

Driving away from the Airport and Maho area toward the French side, Atlantis Casino commands the road just beyond the golf course. Atlantis has become a dining destination, a major upgrade of the usual Caribbean casino restaurant scene. Dino Jagtiani, St Maarten's first CIA graduate, opened Temptation Restaurant serving Nouveau Caribbean cuisine here about a decade ago.

  Atlantis Casino
Montmartre   Its success attracted other top chefs and restaurateurs including David Foini and chef Marco Ferrante at Gondola Restaurant, serving sophisticated modern Italian cuisine, and Thierry Delaunay at Montmartre Restaurant, a leading light of modern French cuisine on the Dutch side. Le Montmartre's charming dining room, directed by a succession of St. Martin's veteran restaurateurs, offers a comfortable and elegant setting for superb service, an ever-expanding wine list, and a menu of contemporary French classics. Le Montmartre's Garlic and Parsley Rack of Lamb is a splendid main course for any occasion, and you will find the recipe in these pages. (This article was started in 2008. By early 2010 Thierry was working at La Marine Restaurant in Grand Case and Montmartre was offering international cuisine. By late 2010, La Marine Restaurant was closed. In 2011 Montmartre closed and Thierry was working at Ti Bouchon.)

Atlantis also houses the island's premier steakhouse, Dare to be Rare, opened by Dino Jagtiani next to his original establishment. Thai Savanh is also here serving Thai cuisine and sushi, Carlo @ Bella Napoli does Italian cuisine, leaning more toward pizza and pasta, and Sugar Cane Café offers casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Long-standing residences and timeshare properties - Sapphire Beach Club, Cupecoy Beach Club, Ocean Club, Tradewinds, and the Summit - spurred the growth of the Cupecoy area just beyond Atlantis, which has seen an explosion of construction. Recently, Cliffside, the tallest building on the island, opened essentially across the street from Atlantis Casino and Rainbow Beach Club opened next to it. Several other projects were announced for the only open land left between Ocean Club and the border. Given the current state of the world economy, some of these have nothing left but an abandoned sales office, but Shore Pointe is largely complete, Cupecoy Yacht Club has morphed into Porto Cupecoy with some residences and many shops open, and Blue Mall and Residences is aiming for an opening in late 2010. These last two also have commercial possibilities, undoubtedly featuring more restaurants. The largest project by far is Porto Cupecoy, which spreads from La Samanna on Baie Longue in St Martin up and over the hill to the lagoon in St Maarten.

The densely settled Cupecoy coast gives way to the French Lowlands, a largely private residential area overlooking Baie Longue, Baie aux Prunes, and Baie Rouge. As the road straightens toward Marigot, passing through Baie Nettle and Sandy Ground, our restaurant quest begins again. Ma Ti Beach perches on Baie Nettle, on the sea side of the road, and chef Sylvain Boulais' restaurant Le Ti' Sucrier overlooks the lagoon. Because the entryway to Le Ti' Sucrier is in the midst of the Residences Anse Marigot, its tropical garden setting, and its delightful long view across the lagoon toward the airport, and toward the sunset, cannot be appreciated from the outside. It is a lovely spot for an aperitif, but stay and order dinner from the very appealing bill of fare. It features a modern take on classic French fish and meat dishes, often with a tropical twist, and usually offers a few Asian favorites too. Preview your visit by making Le Ti' Sucrier's Cucumber Vichyssoise with Crabmeat and Mint in your own kitchen. The light, rich flavors and suave texture make this soup a tempting opener for any warm-weather meal.   Ti Sucrier

  Les Boucanier A short distance ahead on the ocean side of the road is Restaurant Les Boucaniers, with tables on the beach, but with an enclosed dining room, just in case. A bit further is Layla's Beach Bar and across the road on the lagoon is La Cigale. Though they differ in style and ambition, these restaurants share a relaxed attitude and superb water views. There are few experiences on the island as pleasant as lingering over lunch with your toes in the sand, and both Layla's and Les Boucaniers open at midday. These are perfect places to get acquainted with Caribbean Creole specialties: salt cod or conch fritters, spicy avocado salad, stuffed crab, and many others. Chef Nicolas Godebert at Les Boucaniers usually has a Creole sampler plate on the menu to eliminate the need for difficult decisions. He always has a selection of French-accented desserts on offer, none better than his Coconut Blancmanger. This delicate molded pudding, with its distinct coconut flavor and velvety texture, is served with a Passion Fruit Coulis at the restaurant. You can follow his formula to recreate this luscious, not-too-sweet treat at home, and serve it with a seasonal fruit sauce or compote.

As you drive toward the small bridge over the inlet to the lagoon in Sandy Ground, you will come upon Le Chalet, a genuine Swiss restaurant housed in a little brown cottage by the road. Swiss wines, cheeses, and charcuterie are imported directly by the owners, who serve authentic fondues, raclette, and regional specialties to enthusiastic diners. If you turn left just before the bridge and wind through the Sandy Ground neighborhood, you will find Restaurant Le Santal, for thirty years a luxurious outpost of fine dining in a lovely waterfront setting.

Crossing the "French Bridge" as you approach the town of Marigot, you will see to the right a renowned local Caribbean restaurant, aptly named The Bridge, a favorite for parties and family gatherings. And to the left, the round sign above Mario's Bistro signals our last stop. From the moment it opened its doors, Mario's has been a destination restaurant for locals and visitors, who appreciate the casual elegance of its décor, its wine list, and its menu. Fusing Mediterranean flavors with bright ideas from Caribbean cuisine, Chef Mario Tardif and his partners strike just the right balance, and the restaurant's perennial popularity is a testament to their creativity. You will find in these pages an adaptation of one of Mario's signature appetizers, Mussels with Tomato, Parmesan, and Fine Herbs. It makes a fine first course, and it can easily stand alone at lunch.

These days, The Lowlands, both French and Dutch, have a lot to offer diners. There are restaurants for every taste, often in settings that typify the best of the Caribbean. When you cannot be in the Lowlands exploring, here is a menu with wine pairings that captures some of its diversity, for you to make at home:

  Mario's Bistro

Recipes Restaurants
Cucumber Vichyssoise with Crabmeat and Mint Ti Sucrier
Mussels with Tomato, Parmesan, and Fine Herbs Mario's Bistro
Garlic and Parsley Rack of Lamb with Crispy New Potatoes Montmartre Restaurant
Coconut Blancmange Les Boucaniers

Bon Appetit!

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