St Maarten/St Martin
HAPPY NEW YEAR
|Weather: Sunday, 23 Dec, was spectacular. We could see all four islands, Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and Nevis from our balcony and from the road through the lowlands on our way back to Sapphire after an early morning shopping trip.|
|Monday morning was the same but after lunch rain squalls raced across the Caribbean blotting out islands entirely. By sunset, things cleared up and only Nevis was missing from the island roll call. The next day was also spectacular. On Christmas morning a tropical shower washed over Cupecoy, but within 15 minutes it was bright and sunny again. So, do not despair when the weather reports scattered showers. They are scattered geographically, infrequent, and short. Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.|
|SXM-Beaches: Last week I forgot to mention just how great Kakao Beach looked. We were talking with Hervé and remembered that we had met him and Doumé just after Hurricane Luis. The bar was back together, but the plantings were gone with the wind. This side of the island hasn't been hit hard since then and as the photo in the on-line version of this newsletter shows, things are looking quite nice. Moreover, the physical plant has been considerably refurbished for this season. The bathroom and shower areas have been enlarged and I noticed the table where we had lunch had a fresh coat of polyurethane. Class guys running a classy place.|
Beach Reading: I finished Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach and learned a lot. The quagmire of Cuban politics doesn't reach too far north of Miami until our presidential panderers show up to court the Hispanic vote in Florida. Getting the Caribbeen version of the Miami Herald, delivered at no charge to any hotel in SXM that wants it, does put these politics front and center, if one cares to read that portion of the paper.
Roy Deep Sea Fishing takes out parties of four or five and comes back with wahoo and mahi lately, marlin and tuna, sometimes. Send an email if you are interested. If you don't have a party of four, we'll use this space and Roy's website to help fill out the charter. Send an email to get aboard.
|Shopping: We stopped at DK Gems in Philipsburg for Martha's Christmas present. We traded in a bracelet we bought a few years ago, getting full credit, added a few extra bucks and got a fabulous bracelet with sapphires (our birthstone) and diamonds. We're not special, they will do this for any of their customers. That's Deepti and Martha on the left.|
Construction: Above right is a photo of a rainbow coming down on top of Mont Rouge with Cupecoy Yacht Club under it. We've heard that the lighthouse at the entrance to the yacht club was to be an architectural feature but somebody offered a million or so to have it as a living space. Just to the right and a bit further down the hill toward the lagoon is a white house with what looks like an observatory on the top. We're told that it is Jasper John's studio.
The Westin is open. Unfortunately they are running on standby power as the main electrical line into that area seems to have fried itself on Christmas. Their neighbors have no power and the noise from the generator is only their most recent complaint about the Westin. On a brighter note, the Westin did get a four diamond rating from AAA.
They are not alone in their troubles with the island utilities. Most of Cupecoy has been short of water lately while we wait for a new desal plant at Cupecoy Yacht Club to come on line. They promise a happy new year.
The first pile was driven this week for the new mega-yacht pier in Philipsburg. It will accommodate the next batch of super-sized cruisers. St Martin's Week is cheered by a 40% increase in mega-yachts at the Fort St Louis Marina in Marigot.
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.
Travel: 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.
Groceries: Martha notes that the vegetables in the Maho market have become quite pricey compared to other Dutch side supermarkets. It's convenient, and they seem to have figured this into their pricing. We've heard that US Import is going to put a branch into the Pharos complex in Cupecoy. Their branch in Grand Case is not nearly as large and well-stocked as the one in Sandy Ground, so this may not be a great boon to the area.
We just picked up some Petit Billy, a fabulous goat cheese, at the sandy Ground outpost. Jenkins rates it "excellent in his Cheese Primer, and so do we (a bit under $7 for a 200 gram round). It was excellent with a very ripe Passe Crassane pear from Savoie also via US Import. Martha remembers these pears from her youth in Paris.
Alcohol: Last week, I thought the 2005 Cote de Nuit Village from Coillot from Select Wine Cellar was quite good at $25 per bottle and got an email from Marina telling me I had mistyped the first digit: about $35, not $25 per bottle. Similarly, the 2005 Les Milléres Rouissillon from Jean Gardiés was about $27, not $20.
Our Christmas wine was Deutz Brut Classic Champagne with the foie gras and it was spectacular with a crisp nutty taste to complement the buttery excesses of foie gras. With dinner we opened a 2002 Chambolle-Musigny from Guy Amiot. It was much too young, but one of the oldest wines we can find lately. Both came from Select Wine Cellar.
Gas: This is a repeat, but remains true: We got gas at Cadisco in Sandy Ground for 1.00€ per liter which, given their 1 to 1 take on the dollar, is $1.00 per liter or about $3.80 per gallon. Not too bad, even compared to the US. The Dutch side was cheaper at 88 cents (US per liter) but raised prices/taxes recently such that they are now about 20 cents (US) per liter more expensive, ie about $1.20 per liter or $4.50 per gallon. I wouldn't fight traffic around the lagoon to save $7 on a 10 gallon fillup, but I sure would buy gas if I were visiting the French side. Bring cash, as few places take credit cards.
Traffic: We have been exercising at Marci's Mega Gym 2000 just west of the Dutch bridge. Because of traffic, we have bee leaving at 8:30 to arrive before the 9:00AM bridge opening and most traffic. At times we have exercised for an hour and headed over the bridge after it came back down and proceeded into Cole Bay for shopping. We have made it back before the 11:00AM opening and we have continued on around the lagoon, going home through Marigot. Even during one of the busiest weeks of the year, we had little problem at this EARLY hour. Be careful from 3:PM until 6:00PM.
|Nature: The pair of bananaquits (sugar birds) are still building a nest on our balcony. Here's a photo of their friend, a finch, and a couple shots of a seahawk that has been perching on one of the floodlights of the villas below us.|
One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.
Current Contest - now to 2 March 2008
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
DK Gems - $50 off a purchase of $100 or more
Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Le Cottage Restaurant - $100 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
2 March to 27 April
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Halsey's Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Hibiscus Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
On Boxing Day we went to Shrimpy's for lunch mostly because Sapphire's in-house wireless system was down. We took both computers and ran on batteries for about an hour at no cost. If you plug into the mains, they ask for $2. They do expect that you will order something and the rather large glasses of Carlsberg on draft are $5, but that seems like a bargain when most internet places want $5 per hour. We also had a garlic shrimp plate and a garlic calamari plate (each $9.50). Both were quite good and came with a small salad and a pretty good bit of baguette. The total bill with a nice tip to the helpful waitress came to $35. Martha used Skype to call her mother back in Mass for about 2 cents per minute. Check it out. Computer to computer calls are free and calls to regular phones in most of the world are about 2 cents per minute.
On Thursday we went to Auberge Gourmande for a very nice evening. I had sent an email request for our usual table that seems to have been lost in the ether, although Florence and I tested the system again the next day and it worked fine. Because of that, we arrived with no reservations and the waterfront table was taken! That's a joke because they are on the land side of the street, and the waterfront table is the one on the front porch next to the lobster tank that is now a water feature. The main point is that if you want a particular table, you should make reservations as even I can't force my way into full restaurants - which is good because if I can't do it, few people could do it, and your reservations will be respected. So we sat inside for the first time in years and it is quite lovely, well air-conditioned with overhead fans, and not noisy. We started with a champagne cocktail and a glass of champagne as we looked over the menu and the specials. A bread basket with two types of bread arrived with a ramekin of very good butter. We chose an appetizer from the specials, the foie gras pate with a fruit sauce and dried apricots. One of the best things to drink with foie gras is Sauternes, but if you are cutting back on alcohol, have some dried fruit and a fruit sauce with your foie gras. The plate was nice to look at with two large slices of foie gras, several slices of bread, and veg on the edge. The sweet sauce lightly drizzled on the unctuous foie gras was nicely complemented by the sweet but chewy dried apricots. We chose the 2003 Santenay Clos de Gatsulard and were very happy with its velvety smoothness. It comes from southern Burgundy known for its large number of good, but not great, wines. They lack a bit in finesse, finish, and power, possibly making them a better wine for the rather full-bodied chicken breast with bleu cheese and a morel sauce and Martha's duo of lotte and shrimp with wasabi potatoes. Both dinners came with a very tasty bit of braised endive, zucchini, yellow squash, and cauliflower. There were many flavors and textures on the plates, notably Martha's lotte was many smaller pieces crispy fried, so that in addition to the more substantial texture of lotte (poor man's lobster) there was a satisfying crunch. We ended with coffees and some St James rum. It was a great meal and the service was superb, even with a fairly full house.
On Saturday evening we went to Montmartre Restaurant for another enjoyable dinner. There are new owners, Gerald from L'Escapade Restaurant and Laurent from La Casa del Cigar, who bought the restaurant from Pascal and Karen who still own Auberge Gourmande and Sunset Café. The kitchen and dining room staff remains the same. The menu is a bit smaller and simpler and the wine list is a bit larger with plans for a large wine cave in the back right corner of the dining area.
We were dining early in order to be home for the sainted New England Patriots final regular season victory. We noted that Montmartre still has the platter of fruits du mer, but we weren't prepared for that and started with a Christmas special mussel soup with saffron and two crispy vegetable samosas on the side - another interesting dish with a variety of tastes and textures. My dinner came from the regular menu: tuna steak with rice noodles, a Japanese vegetable medley containing porcinis, a bit of wasabi, a bowl of soy sauce, and a dollop of risotto. Martha chose a farm raised chicken breast stuffed mushrooms with a foie gras sauce accompanied by a small canning jar filled with peppery fava beans and a layer of mushrooms between two layers of risotto. Rest assured, these are not canned fava beans, merely a bit of whimsy on the part of the chef. We chose a 2004 Mercurey Premier Cru from Picard to accompany these flavorful dishes. Mercurey also comes from southern Burgundy, which seems fine with the varied flavors in Thierry's dishes. The bottom line is that the restaurant remains the same, very good food, excellent service in a lovely room, with an even larger wine list. Photos of the three dishes are on the gallery at the website. Montmartre also has a listing on the 2008 Gault Millau ratings.
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night from 15 January 2007 until April.
Changes: Bec Fin has been sold. We've been told that two guys from Paris bought Alabama, Casablanca (recently Dehlia's), and another restaurant. The architect who did the original designs on Montmartre and Casablanca was with them looking over Casablanca again. The scuttlebutt is that it will become a wine bar. Alabama has been refurbished and already opened. In fact, St Martin's Week, the twice a week French newspaper had an ad for their New Year's Eve extravaganza. It was one of the most expensive set meals in the newspaper at 175€ per head, but they are doing 1 to 1.
BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS
Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month (but not in January). Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).
Ti Bouchon Wine Tasting: Momo has now opened for lunch and dinner with two new chefs. He no longer has time to indulge us in fine wines in the afternoon. Most unfortunate.
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)
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 offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.