St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday was pretty cloudy, but no rain until the game started. We watched in the outdoor barbecue pavilon at the Horny Toad Guesthouse and felt only slightly better than fans in Miami as the wind was driving the rain sideways at times. It stopped before the game did and the drive home was moist, but not miserable. Monday was quite cloudy and gray with a few rain showers, but Orion and his sword were visible as we drove home and Tuesday was considerably better. Wednesday was OK but Thursday morning had rain. The good news is that it washed the haze out of the sky and we rarely have seen clearer views across the water. The photo on the right is of the gray day on Monday with the rainbow starting at Mont Rouge in the French lowlands and spreading over La Belle Créole. Below is a great shot of Saba on the very clear Thursday and a great shot of the lagoon showing Wendy K's building on the lagoon with Stew Leonard's estate on the leftmost of the mammelles across the water. To the right is the tower of Belle Créole with Anguilla in the distance. The next shot was taken at sunset on Friday, looking out toward Saba. Friday and Saturday were also lovely, with Saturday ending in a green flash.|
SXM-Beaches: There is very little beach at Sapphire at the moment. the rollers coming from the SE have reduced the beach to a chair length at most, but one can get in and out of the water. Wendy K says that Mullet is fine (except when the large rollers keep her away) and other parts of Cupecoy now have our sand. A stroll on the boardwalk showed that Pburg has a great beach.
Beach Reading: I just finished Chance by Robert B. Parker. It's another Spenser novel with Hawk and Susan, starting in Boston, heading to Vegas, and back. Great, smart dialogue, as the usual machinations of the Boston underworld are explored.
Construction: Cupecoy Yacht Club has a barge on site and is pushing ever further into the lagoon. Cupecoy Village, owner of most of the land across the street between Sapphire and the lagoon, appears to be derelict. Some friends just moved into Rainbow Beach, so that is progressing. Another friend has a lower unit in The Cliff and that is still not finished.
Traffic: We tried to drive from Cupecoy to SkipJack's on the other side of the bridge at 5PM on Wednesday. We got stopped along side the runway at 5:17 and didn't reach the restaurant until 6PM. On Friday we went to Pburg before lunch with little trouble. We came back at 4PM over the Cakehouse shortcut and easily made it to Select Wine Cellar in Cole Bay. We sampled a few wines and went home with our favorite Chablis and some Deutz Champagne for Valentine's Day. We left at 5, midway between the 4:30 and 5:30 bridge openings and made it through easily. We did note that traffic in the other direction, from Cupecoy to Simpson Bay was again backed up past the end of the runway, approaching Uncle Harry's.
SXM Shopping: Capt Jerome sent an email saying he bought a inexpensive watch a year ago last December at Jewelmasters at Divi Little Bay and had a problem with it just before returning to SXM this past December. The shop, although they didn't have to, replaced the watch free of charge. It's great doing business with people with the feeling they arte not trying to rip you off. Another story: DK Gems has restrung some pearls that broke and resized Martha's wedding and engagement rings at no cost. One minor detail, we didn't buy any of those at DK Gems, although I confess to having spent a bit on other things.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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. Note that says to the USA. You still can get here on a driver's license. You just can't get back home, although I've heard that they just make your life miserable for a while. 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! For what it is worth, 12 million people applied for a US passport last year. That's six times as many people as applied in 2005.
Small island story: We stopped at a hardware store to get a rubber bumper for the doorstop as the old one keeps getting knocked off by our maid's vigorous mopping. We found the doorstop and its oversized bumper next to two other variations of same with an oversized bumper. Next to that was a package of spare bumpers, all of a smaller size.
Groceries: Last week I reported that Beaufort, a wonderful firm mountain cheese, cost $20 per kilo (about $12 per pound, divide by 2 and add 20%, but obviously, this little trick depends on the euro/dollar exchange rate) at US Imports. I was checking my favorite US wine store, The Wine and Cheese Cask, and they are featuring it this month at $17 per pound. Their prices are generally very good. The lesson is that if you want to try one (actually most) of the world's best cheeses, SXM is a fine spot to do it.
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. the casino has two new restaurants: the “Rock House”, restaurant and sports bar with “Just Sushi” at one end and a terrace restaurant called “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. Friday Night in the Rock House is Karaoke with over 2000 songs in English and French. Monday night (in football season) is, of course, Football night and we have 7 large screens and a couple of pool tables.
Elizabeth Ann Leux
SXM-INFO'S REGULAR CONTEST
Stay tuned. They'll be back soon.
On Sunday we went to the Horny Toad Guesthouse for a private (guests only) Superbowl Party. We've been doing this for years and many of the same guests are here at the same time. It was a little different this year as Betty was back in the US attending to family matters, but we organized the food and TV amongst ourselves. Not with the same efficiency, of course, but we got a tenderloin (select at $14 per pound) at Merchant's Market and roasted it off on the outdoor grill. A guest organized the accompaniments and about 20 of us had a lovely pregame sunset party and dinner before we settled in for the game. I'd have to say that the select beef was very good, but the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) that we had over the holidays was better (at $18 per pound).
On Monday night we went to La Guinguette Restaurant at Port de Plaisance. PdP is a lovely resort with a beautiful marina. One of the things that makes it lovely is the distance from other developments. That also hurts the restaurants located on the property. They get essentially zero foot traffic. Luckily, there is plenty of free parking and the resort is gated and has security, so it is a pretty safe place. We drove in, parked near the main hotel lobby and walked around back to the marina to find Guinguette. The name is used for dance halls in the south of France and there is a large air-conditioned room that is used for functions, but most of the tables are on the open air veranda looking out over the mega-yachts at the marina. The menu is inexpensive and there are $20 and $25 three course prix fixe menus every day, an early bird $15 menu, a $35 lobster menu, and $18 moules frites on Wednesday. I can't think of any other place with this quality of food at these prices. We started with two flutes of champagne, a belated toast to groundhog day, and a tuna tartare ($17) on a bed of greens - firm tasty tuna in a tangy dressing with crisp leaves, a slice of tomato, and a bit of onion for added crunch. Martha ordered the spicy shrimp ($17) off the menu and, as there are also daily specials, I choose a fisherman's platter ($25) with shrimp, calamari, snapper, mahi, and oaussous (fresh water shrimp) with Créole sauce. Both dinners came with rice, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, and a few strings of peppers, red and green. This is not fast food, the carrots and zucchini were sculpted, obviously fresh, the spicy shrimp sauce was NOT the same as the Créole sauce. It was all cooked to order, pretty to look at, and contained fresh, distinctive flavors. We finished the evening with coffee and complimentary balloons of Cognac and Armagnac. Our ap was the most expensive ap and the fisherman's platter was the most expensive main course, save lobster creations, and we had entirely too much to eat for $58. We did add a bottle of 2003 Mont Redon Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($50) and some water to get our bill up to $132. There is a reasonable selection of wines by the glass, so lesser drinkers could easily keep their bill under $100, even lower with the well-priced menus.
Later that evening, we stopped at Night Off for a nightcap. Vino, who worked here throughout high season, is back, making everyone feel at home in his high tech pleasure palace. It's a pretty spiffy and comfortable place next to Moulin Fou, behind Cheri's, in Maho. He has fine wines and fine cheeses and encourages you to stop in for a fine time. We had two of Alain Brumont's Pacherenc slightly sweet wines, one red, one white. Martha's red was Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. We remarked that bilh was a very strange word and that we had no idea what Vic Bilh might mean. Vino, from Morocco, replied that in the local dialect of that region of southern France, it meant old man. Now you know.
On Tuesday we stopped in at Moulin Fou (Crazy Mill). Tuesday was chosen so that we could have an outside table without listening to Cheri's show next door. Some people must love it as it has continued unchanged since we first saw it in the mid 90's, but having memorized it, we prefer to dine next door on Tuesdays, when Cheri's is dark. Alas, as we arrived, two parties of twelve arrived without reservations, complete with barking children - I am not making this up. We retreated to the far end of the covered porch, into a lovely space surrounded by potted plants, fine curtains, and a bit of solitude. The menus, specials page, and wine list arrived smartly and we got our order in ahead of the dense-pack of tourists massing on the terrace. The menu has about ten appetizers with another on the specials page. They hover around $10, but reach the high teens. We choose a salad that claimed to have chevre and roquefort ($16), although neither the English nor the French seemed crystal clear to us. I'm sure the wait staff could have told us as they seemed quite professional, but we wanted some greens and if chevre and roquefort were involved, how could we go wrong? It arrived quite promptly, before the wine in fact. The kitchen, wisely alerted to the fact that two 12-tops had arrived, was in turbo mode. Luckily, the wine steward, our friend Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar, had already taken our order for a 2005 St Joseph Clos des Cumailles. He arrived in a flash with two of his lovely Tritan wine glasses in tow. The 2005 was young, light, but quite good, sturdy enough for our two bits of melted chevre on slices of baguette and two bits of crispy phyllo dough wrapped around roquefort that encircled a lovely handful of greens with a tangy dressing. The meal was off to a good, albeit, flying start. There were about a half dozen meat dishes and ten or so fish dishes on the menu. The fish dishes were in the low 20's for the most part and the meat dishes were in the high 20's, with the exception of the Kobe Beef special at a mere $110. Martha had ordered a halibut with chive cream sauce special ($25) and I had the meli-melo (mixture) of shrimp and scallops with leeks in a butter sauce off the menu ($27). The seafood was in good shape, quite tasty, and the firmness of the halibut was surprising. The scallop, shrimp, and leeks in a butter sauce is a standard because it is so good, blending three slightly different textures in a tasty broth. The wait staff brought a spoon, something often forgotten, but quite useful and appreciated with fine sauces. The dinners included white rice and a mixture of veg. The dinners and the ap all had a sprig of fresh thyme, always welcome. We ended with coffees and asked for the check. A bottle of flavored rum arrived before the check and was left on the table. They may have been busy, but they were still quite attentive. Note that they add 15% service to the bill as "sc taxes". When your credit card slip arrives, the total is there with a blank spot for you to add another tip. If, having besotted yourself on the fine rum, you add a further 15% tip you will have paid about 32% more than the listed prices, effectively moving from dollar to euro pricing without the bother of driving to the French side.
On Wednesday we stopped for drinks at SkipJack's courtesy of Stuart "Buzz" Hutchison. You may recognize the name as a recent winner of the Princess Casino and Baccara Restaurant contest. No, recent winners are not expected to reward me with liquor. Mr Hutchison is a Steelers fan and, in a moment of misguided optimism, accepted a wager on the outcome of one of their games a few years ago. It has taken us this long to get together, but when we finally did, we met a man with an even longer tenure on the island than ours and some nice insights. First, he mentioned that Martin Conway at Princess Casino mentioned that the Bentley could hold four, so if Mr Hutchison wanted to bring another couple, that was fine with him. As I recall, the first diners actually squeezed five into the limo and while the dinner prize was left at $50, all of the diners were given $25 in casino action. I'm not sure how many mussels can be found where the Monongahela and Allegheny combine to form the Ohio (that would be the basis for Three River Stadium, home of the Steelers), but Mr Hutchison had just had a delightful lunch at Sunset Café in Grand Case, dining on what I have often touted as the best mussels in white wine and cream sauce on the island. He now concurs in this opinion. He also reported a great dinner on duck night at Mary's Boon. The website doesn't seem to say much about the restaurant, so you should know that a different multi-course dinner is prepared every night of the week. The dinner costs $35 per person and there is an honor bar. Obviously, it appeals more to people who are staying there, but it is open to the public with reservations. Finally, he had taken our advice on beef tenderloin, although he got his at the Grand Marché in Cole Bay (rather than Merchants Market behind the Harley shop). He did put it on the grill for a Superbowl party at home, much like we did. Given guilders, kilos, pounds, dollars, and several drinks we were not sure which was the better deal. Merchants isn't used to tourists and probably does not take credit cards. We paid about $13 per pound for select beef and about $18 for Angus.
While we were whiling away the time at the bar, Capt Neil from Celine's Lagoon Pub Crawl came by. Not surprising as the Pub Crawl starts at SkipJack's dock. It heads out from there to Peg Leg Pub for steak and swordfish (and a brew or two), over to Shrimpy's for what else?, and back to Skipjack's for more snacks. If you are still hungry, the kitchen can rustle something up and the bar stays open until you leave. Capt Neil will be going out on the Saturday (3 March) of the Heineken Regatta. Note that you will not be a participant in the race, but will be watching it. The participants do not like non-participants to get too close and especially don't want them to have their sails up. Plan on a motor out of Simpson Bay to see some of the starts (there are several classes), and a motor around Cupecoy to the finish line in Marigot to see some of the finishes. Return to Simpson Bay on the 5:30 opening of the French Bridge.
After that we headed out to Auberge Gourmande for a terrace table overlooking Le Tastevin. Yes, unfortunately Auberge Gourmande is on the land side, so there is no water view. Le Tastevin is a beautiful blue and white Créole cottage, so the view is lovely especially as the shops selling clothing across the street stay open late and add to the street theater. Moreover, Auberge was named one of the best restaurants in the Caribbean by the readers of Caribbean Travel & Life, so the view is optional. We ordered water and six snails, not much of a test for the kitchen. After a consult with the wine steward (it was Florence's night off) we moved up from out usual Crozes-Hermitage to the real Hermitage. Both were from Paul Jaboulet, a very respected producer in the Rhone Valley, but we were worried by the fact that it was a 2003, quite young for such an august wine (and it cost almost twice as much). In this case, like many areas in France, a neighboring area attached the name of a more famous vineyard to its name in order to confuse the public. Thus, the town of Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny, stealing a bit from the legendary Musigny vineyard, ditto Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St Denis, Vosne-Romanee, Aloxe-Corton, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Pernand-Vergelesses, Nuits-San Georges, and Crozes-Hermitage. The sommelier offered to decant the wine, providing more time to breathe and, presumably, help in ageing such a young exemplar of Rhone wines. We opted to taste the wine without decanting and were amply rewarded with a young, robust wine that was fine with the snails. Our bread basket contained the usual sliced baguette, useful for the garlic and butter from the snails, but also a couple very tasty house-made rolls. For dinner we choose the lamb chops and the lotte and shrimp. To leave it at that would be a great disservice to Stephane, the chef. I am reminded of last weeks newsletter wherein Michael Pollan advised us to "Eat like an omnivore". My dinner consisted of two types of seafood and had braised endive, wasabi smashed potatoes, cauliflower, yellow squash, broiled tomato with breadcrumbs, and a couple house-made potato chips. The seafood, of course, are quite firm fleshed, so much so that lotte (monkfish) is described as the poor man's lobster. The potatoes were not whipped, and certainly did not come out of a box as they were still a bit chunky with all the delight that a bit of wasabi can add, esp to a fish dish. There were many things on the plate and they had been labored over, and placed there with an eye to beauty. The yellow squash was delicately sliced and fanned out. Moreover, it was al dente, not raw or hard, not mushy, just perfect. Small point on a small part of the meal, but that attention to the small parts adds up to a fabulous dinner. We closed with espresso and complimentary after-dinner drinks.
On the way home we stopped at Mario's Bistro to make reservations for the next week. Friends are coming to the island and it appears that they like Mario's even more than we do. We have reservations for Tuesday and Saturday. Mario assured us he would change the specials between those dates and discussed wrapping his Canadian bacon around something for me. He left early, but we ended up discussing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness until midnight over another balloon of Armagnac with Martyne. This discussion centered on restaurants and the recent demise of two of the oldest restaurants on the island, Rainbow and Sebastiano. Christophe at Auberge Gourmande asked us if we could offer him any advice as to what to say to the people who asked him about this and we continued the conversation with Martyne at Mario's. I'll write the book someday, or at least put a page up on the web, but Martyne, Mario, and Christophe worked at Rainbow 15 years ago. To those who missed it above, the euro is at about $1.30, up from $0.85 a few years ago. That is an increase of 50%. Take that as problem number one. Number two: It is certainly no secret that in the 25 years or so that these two restaurants have been in existence, many more restaurants have opened in Grand Case. Traffic to and in Grand Case has increased significantly. Moreover, the parking lot is situated such that Sebastiano never saw any foot traffic and Rainbow's possibilites were infinitesimal. Both needed parking lots and Rainbow lost theirs to construction next door just last year. Sebastiano had one, but you had to know about it to find it, which is to say you had to be going there in the first place. It isn't all parking and competition, which brings us to number three: Anyone who opened a restaurant 25 years ago is now 25 years older. They probably were close to thirty then, mid fifties, possibly older, now. I've been an advocate of early retirement since I quit my full-time job in my late thirties. I trust that these two successful restaurants made money for their owners and at their age, they have earned the right to move on. It is also no secret that most restaurant owners do not own the land under nor the building that houses their restaurant. If they are lucky, they have an attractively priced lease on the premises that they can offer with their fixtures and their good name. Unfortunately, their name is usually closely associated with them. Rainbow without David and Fleur would not be Rainbow and Sebastiano, run by Christine's daughter who had never been in the business, lasted one final season. I suspect you will see more closures before the rents come down and the competition decreases to the point that the French side is doing well again. I don't look for any great realignment of the dollar and euro given the US government deficit and the US negative balance of payments. And you can take that to the bank. Just can't deposit it.
On Friday we went to Pburg to have some Maui Jim sunglasses worked on at Fifth Avenue on Front Street. Martha bought some Calvin Klein's to tide her over while a shattered lens is being replaced. I was taking life easy around the corner on back Street at Shieka's Bistro, enjoying a Carib, until she arrived for a very nice local lunch, one fish, one chicken, both with peas and rice and veg. Quite inexpensive, quite good and as a bonus, you might get to chat with Betty Richardson about the way things were on SXM several years ago.
That evening we went to Baccara Restaurant just off Princess Casino, also at Port de Plaisance. We had a most unfashionable 7:00 reservation and actually shared the dining room with GM Martin Conway, his wife, and two daughters. It's a lovely spot with views of the stage and gaming floor. They have two new chefs and we have to admit that the food is a step up this year. We started with two flutes of Champagne and ordered the tuna carpaccio and a bottle of the 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet from Bouchard ($55). An amuse bouche arrived: a small pastry crust with a cranberry filling topped with a slice of emmenthal cheese and a pine nut. I'm not really a fan of Ocean Spray, but I couldn't even taste any cranberriness, so I was quite happy with this little starter. The tuna arrived, sliced thin, filling a plate with dollops of both red and black caviar, some crunchy wakame seaweed, sliced ginger, wasabi horseradish, a breadstick. Some fresh greens were piled in the center with a nice dressing and a bit of lime. That was a lot of work to turn simple raw fish into an extravaganza, but it was worth it. Our dinners were a sliced duck breast with a passion fruit sauce and sweet potato and a lamb tenderloin in a crispy crust with a tomato sauce, a bit of balsamic reduction sauce and ratatouille. Both were quite good with nice sauces. Martha was especially enthusiastic about her dinner given that many passion fruit sauces are too sweet. This one, she felt, was fine and the little bit of sweetness in the sweet potato added nicely to the total effect. We finished with very good espresso. The bill was about $140 and the champagnes were comped, possibly because we didn't have time for a complimentary after dinner drink as we had to get to the 9PM concert in front of the casino. All in all, it was a very good meal in a lovely restaurant that is pretty easy to get to and has acres of free parking.
The concert was the Afterbeat, a Beatles tribute band and it was fun in a 60's-70's sort of way. Amazingly enough, we were among the oldest specimens present. I certainly remember the Beatles, the first time around. I was benched by my basketball coach in 1964 for not having a part in my hair, among other things. I think these guys come from Germany and certainly their mispronunciation of a few things let us know that English was a second language. Nonetheless, they were pretty good, especially the first half of the show when they covered the early Beatles. The second half of the show complete with appropriate costume changes covered the rest of the Beatles career, as they evolved, adding classical horns (Penny Lane) or the entire London Symphony. This was a bit harder to do live on stage, but an electronic keyboardist did his best and a good time was had by all, esp as they were serving $2 Stellas in the back!
Changes: The Pizza Hut in Simpson Bay has closed, but one has reopened in Cole Bay alongside the KFC.
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.
Friday night sushi and happy hour (from 4 till 6 PM) is still happening at Halsey's Restaurant. We had a great time when last we were there.
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. The easiest free welcome champagne cocktail from Auberge Gourmande, Montmartre, and Sunset Café is no longer available, but 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.