St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday was back to scattered showers as was Monday. We could see at least three islands and there was plenty of sun. By late Monday the horizon was thick with clouds and large rollers had brought out the surfers at Cupecoy, indicating a change of weather. By Tuesday morning, even Saba was lost in the mist. Wednesday started to get much better and Thursday through Saturday were some of the best days this season: flat seas, calm winds, warm sun, no clouds, no rain. Friday night featured a spectacular sunset ending in a green flash. Saturday was also great, but a hint of cloud reduced the green flash a bit. Below are the sunset on Tuesday evening and one just prior to the green flash on Friday. Sunset will be at 6:02PM on Sunday and the moon is a waxing gibbous (nearing full).|
SXM-Beaches: Orient looked great on Wednesday as everyplace was crowded courtesy of six cruise ships. We stopped at Rancho del Sol to survey the whole scene as we approached and they were slammed. We headed down to Kokomarina on the beach and Marina had no chairs available. We went down to Pedro's Beach Bar and found one chair and no umbrella! Thursday at Cupecoy was better. Lovely sun, calm water, Saba and Statia both visible, and we could walk out of Sapphire onto the beach. It was possible to walk from Ocean Club to Cliffhanger.
Beach Reading: I just finished Double Play by Robert B. Parker. It is about soldier, wounded at Guadalcanal who becomes a bodyguard for Jackie Robinson as he enters the bigs. In theory, he was hired by Branch Rickey to ensure that trouble didn't come to the bigs' first black player. This is not a Spenser book, but the similarities of a tough white guy and a black friend are there, interspersed with Parker's reminiscences about growing up as a Dodger fan.
Traffic: Made it over to the cinema (MVG Technology to get my repaired computer, actually) and back in less than an hour around 2PM on Tuesday. Tried to go through the lowlands to Marigot at 5:45 and got stopped by the slow traffic just starting again over the 5:30 French side bridge opening as I arrived at about 5:50. Note the French bridge opens at 5:30PM, same as the Dutch side. That really stops up traffic as people are getting out of work. Luckily, not many people work 9 to 5.
Sapphire Beach Club: 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 email@example.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.
Passports are required 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. Get a Passport!
Groceries: We stopped at the Grand Marché in Cole Bay again this week. It's very nice with a huge selection, even a good selection of French things. It's still better on the French side, but everything is priced in dollars here.
Just announced: a winter special, buy 5 nights, get two free, buy 7 nights, get 3 free, though March 31, 2007. Not all rooms and dates are eligible, but it is a great deal for last minute travel plans.
For those staying elsewhere in St Martin this season, we welcome you to visit the Club and spend the day with us for $125 per couple, enjoy our facilities and make your future reservations to stay with us. This includes use of our property including open bar, beach transport, Pool, Jacuzzi, Satellite TV (NFL Football) and more fun than you can have anywhere else in the Caribbean. For more info on the club, visit our website. Hope to see you at Club Fantastico this season! And while you are there, enter the summer contest where they can enter to win seven nights during June, July, or August.
Winter schedule: Win $100 at Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant contest every week until April 2007. Get $50 in casino action and $50 off a dinner for two at Baccara Restaurant, just above the casino floor. Make it a spectacular evening as you will be picked up and returned home in a chauffeured Bentley. You must enter this contest each week and you must use the entry form for this contest to be considered.
Martin Conway, GM at the casino, says that they offer free pick up service by Rolls Royce or Bentley and can send a bus for larger groups. Distance is no problem. With this service, there are no worries about security or drinking and driving. Our motto is Good Gaming, Great Entertainment, and Fine Dining.
Martin also notes some changes at the Princess for this season. Le Baccara has a new chef. We have a new restaurant: the “Rock House”, restaurant and sports bar. Another new area “Just Sushi” and a terrace restaurant to open mid-November, the “Surf & Turf” Island Grill and Bar. The entertainment is great with a special themed evening every weekend. Examples so far, Miss Princess, Caribbean Night, Oriental Night, Mr.Princess, Victor-Victoria. Halloween is coming up as is Indian Night. Friday Night in the Rock House is Karaoke with over 2000 songs in English and French. Monday night is, of course, Football night and we have 7 large screens and a couple of pool tables.
SXM-INFO'S REGULAR CONTEST
Stay tuned. They'll be back soon.
We stayed home on Sunday to watch the Patriots lead (or tie) for 59 out 60 minutes. Being superstitious, we reprised our previous week's menu (when they won): Angus filet mignon from Merchants Market in Cole Bay. Possibly their downfall was brought on by our switch to a 2002 Chateau de Beaune with the dinner. It was very good, but they lost.
On a dreary Monday night we went to Halsey's Restaurant for some "fine dining - unrefined" on the lagoon just east of the bridge in Simpson Bay. The slogan essentially says that Ryan Halsey makes some very refined food in the kitchen and Jessica, his wife, (and others) do an excellent job in the dining room, but overall, it is a friendly place set on a dock with a canvas roof. The unrefined part may refer to the plank floor, plastic side flaps (generally furled giving an open air on the lagoon feeling, but unfurled by necessity on this evening), the lack of tablecloths, or the lively bar crowd during happy hour. If you are feeling a bit unrefined, just gaze out at the megayachts anchored nearby. There is very little parking and all the restaurants make sure that you come into their restaurant if you park in their lot. The only available open parking is on the south (Caribbean) side of the street just past Royal Palm. Make sure you get all four wheels out of the travel lane. The restaurant has about a dozen tables that can seat four in a pinch, but generally get two. We had a waterfront deuce waiting for us because we had made reservations, always nice (for both us and the kitchen). The menu is rather large with about a dozen soups and aps and another dozen fish and meat courses plus a few specials. The wine list is similarly large with a far-ranging selection through Europe, the US, and others. There are many wines available by the glass and even a few half bottles. We started with glasses of Pinot Grigio to go with our seared scallops on a bed of spicy black beans with cilantro oil and a few tortilla strips. As luck would have it, we ran out of the Pinot Grigio and started in our 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape from Mont Redon. The way Ryan packs flavor and spice into this dish, the CdP was a much better pairing. I also admired the way the dish combined black beans with little texture, lightly seared scallops with a wonderful, meaty texture, and a few tortilla strips with a satisfying crunch. All dinners come with a salad that arrives between the ap and main course. Our dinners were a veal tenderloin special and the seared sesame-encrusted tuna with wasabi cream and soy sauces. There is no doubt that the tuna stood up to the bold Rhone wine given spicy wasabi and flavorful soy that came with the superb bit of fish. The veal was quite good, quite large, and came with a dollop of mashed potatoes with chives and grilled veg. We finished with two glasses of Pyrat Rum from Anguilla. The aps are mostly in the teens, the main courses are in the 20's, and the wines are reasonably priced. Nonetheless, we managed to ring up an $84 bar tab by having one of the most expensive wines and two glasses of a wonderful, though pricey, aged rum. Our food only came to a bit more than $60 and included bread with butter and a garlicky, parsley spread before dinner and a complimentary salad with dinner. This really is fine dining, without the fine dining price tag.
On Wednesday we went up to Grand Case and headed for Il Nettuno Restaurant on the water across from the parking lot in the center of town. The lot is unattended (ie, free) at lunch time, making it quite convenient. We really like lunchtime in Grand Case. At night, it is pleasant to look out across the black water with a few mast lights on the anchored boats and see the lights of Anguilla and most restaurants throw some light on the shore, but daylight reveals a lovely bay with Molly Smith Point to the west and Créole Rock to the east with Anguilla in the distance. Down by Il Nettuno Restaurant the town piers always have some activity, if only kids jumping into the water. Martha usually has a salad (lobster, shrimp, and others are available at lunch) and I usually have whatever fish special is on the blackboard. Today she had the shrimp salad and I had the salmon steak on a bed of diced tomatoes with olive oil and spices with a bit of tagliatelle in a tomato sauce on the side. Glasses of Pinot Grigio and good crusty bread with lots of butter finished out a wonderful lunch on a lovely day. Nettuno does not do 1 to 1 but the prices aren't bad for such a lovely dining room with such a great view. Our lunch cost about $50.
On Thursday evening had a drink with Tiki from Capt Morgan at Le Village Restaurant in Marina Royale in Marigot. The captain of the boat is Tiki's mate, Serge, and the boat is named after their son, Morgan, or possibly he is named after Morgan, the boat manufacturer. They are now connected with one of the cruise lines and only take a few non-cruiseboat trips. We then headed out to Grand Case for dinner at Ti Coin Créole. This was just picked as the best Créole restaurant on the island by St Maarten Events. It was number 21 in a list of 25 reasons to enjoy yourself on the islands. The restaurant is at the far eastern end of restaurant row, actually on the road to Grand Case Beach Club. It's not exactly the best location in town for getting foot traffic, but it is where chef and owner Carl Philips grew up. It really is a Créole cottage, tarted up a bit, with the center turned into a kitchen and the porch on two sides filled with tables. The menu is small, as are the prices. All aps are about $10 and dinners are under $20, unless you go for some lobster creations. Another note, though small, the menu basically lists shrimp, conch, chicken, steak, mahi, goat, and snapper, but then offers each in several styles: Créole, curry, and possibly more. It fits on two pages, but offers a wide variety. We started with a crab back with lots of crab and a conch salad with lots of conch. Neither were very hot, a common misconception about Créole food. We made ours hot and delicious by adding some of Carl's homemade hot sauce, but without that there was almost no heat to either ap. Our dinners were the shrimp Créole and the conch Créole. Again, neither were very hot but both were very tasty. We added his homemade hot sauce to taste. The dinner followed by complimentary rum cost less than $50. We had a dessert (Leffe and a Hoegaarden) at Blue Martini and caught some of Lou Lou's set.
On Friday morning we went snorkeling with Sebby at the Grand Case Beach Club's Activities Desk. They are a few minutes away from Créole rock, a marine sanctuary, and one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. There are several boats that come up here, notably Random Wind, but if you want a short, but serious snorkel, Sebby is the way to go. If you want a day sail with lots of sightseeing, a lunch on the water, and couple snorkel stops, then the day charter boats are for you. We've done both and had a great time. This morning we saw a two spotted eagle rays, tangs, sergeant majors, trunkfish, trumpetfish, needlefish, parrot fish, beautiful butterfly fish, and more. After a morning snorkel, we headed over to Orient for lunch at Pirate Beach Bar. We really think that Sylvie does wonderful things with fish. I had a swordfish steak ($10) and Martha had a Pirate salad ($8) featuring some of the largest and tenderest conch we've ever seen. My sword came with rice and peas, cole slaw, and a bit of salad. We added a couple caribs and had a lunch for $22. Great views of Green Cay are free. There is a coupon on the website. After lunch we went for a couple more brews and some chairs at Pedro's Beach Bar, leaving a bit before 4PM as the sun starts to set on the hills behind the beach.
We got to Halsey's by about 4:15 for their first Friday 4 to 6 PM sushi and happy hour extravaganza. They intend to make this a weekly affair and the turnout for this minimally advertised starter was overwhelming. Possibly the $2 beers, $3 drinks and $5 martinis, got people's attention or maybe it was all the sushi plates priced at $7. We had a couple Stella Artois, essentially our favorite beer, and a spicy tuna roll and a smoked Eel roll with some extra wakame seaweed, a little something to hold us over until our late dinner. This seems like a winner. Remember that they are just on the east (Pburg) side of the bridge and that the hours for this affair bracket the bridge openings at 4:30 and 5:30.
We actually made it out in time to get to Bamboo Bernies in time to get some of their incredibly cheap drinks (they start out free and rise in price every half hour or hour until 8PM). They have a spectacular sunset view and Friday was the best sunset of the season. The online version of this newsletter has a photo.
At 8:30 that evening we were at our table at Saint Séverin Restaurant on the back side of Marigot. This is where the upper crust locals meet to eat, especially on weekends as fresh seafood is flown in from France. We were four as a friend and frequent visitor to the island also knew of St Séverin and asked us to join. Gladly! We started with a bottle of Chablis ($33) and a bottle of the 2002 Pommard Epenot Premier Cru from Girardin ($52) as our dinners were all over the map. Three of us shared fresh oysters flown in from France, drinking Chablis while the fourth, eschewing shellfish, had the risotto with wild mushrooms and tested our Pommard. Another ap of three tartares (tuna, salmon, and veg) was shared all around. All the aps were 14 euros, about $17, for some very interesting food. Dinners were quail on a bed of green cabbage (great, esp with Pommard), sautéed foie gras on a bed of lentils (ditto), a braided snapper and salmon dish with roasted red pepper on a bed of spinach in a creamy whole grain mustard sauce (back to Chablis), and mussels in a creamy broth with crisp french fries on the side (take your choice of wines). The dinners were all under $25. Our friends had crème brûlée and an apple tart for dessert while Martha and I tested the armagnac. I confess that it went well with a few spoonfuls of crème brûlée. This is another place that is not doing 1 to 1, nor using the exact exchange rate. They offered about 1.2, which kept the bill at about $130 per couple. There is no fantastic seaview, just good food and good service in a boisterous, bustling place.
Lunch on Saturday was at Sunset Café inside the grounds at Grand Case Beach Club. It's another great spot for lunch in Grand Case. They have a wraparound deck over the water/beach with great views of Créole rock and Anguilla. They know how much we like their mussels in white wine with onions, shallots, and a bit of cream and said that they had saved the last two orders for us. Five other guests were joining us and we allowed them to have the mussels, which we think are the best of this type on the island. Martha switched to a smoked fish salad, the usual greens, tomatoes, etc with slices of smoked salmon and tuna, and I had the Niçoise. A couple bottles of LaCoste's Rosé d'Une Nuit and a couple bottles of water rounded out a wonderful time with a wonderful view on a spectacular day.
Every Tuesday afternoon from 4:30 until 6:00, Ti Bouchon will host a small (ten people maximum) wine tasting on their porch. There is no charge, but if you would like to attend, please visit the website and call or send an reservation request no more than one month in advance. Be sure to mention a date and the number in your party.
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:
Le Baccara Restaurant
Pirate Beach Bar
Pedro's Beach Bar
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Good Cards (and gifts)
We have a car from Don at GCL Car Rental. They have always been good to us and you can read several testimonials on their site from others. He and Daniel are certainly worth an email when you want reliable, yet inexpensive, transportation. I've never tested them, but they say they will come and pick you up if you think you have over-indulged.
Those who like Club Orient might be interested in Club Fantastico. Check it out. Richard says "At Club Fantastico the Jacuzzi is percolating and the pool is a perfect temperature for skinny dipping late into the evening. The Caribbean Sea is aqua blue and warm as can be. Chef Antonio was here over the holidays and will be back, so stay tuned. Music and fine cuisine will be the norm."
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 says that she can generally beat any rates you can get from the hotels. Give her a shot.