St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday, 6 Jan, was another spectacular day and Monday was just as fine. It stayed that way, bright sunshine, even as a brief rain shower passed over in the late afternoon. This, of course, makes rainbows quite likely and the on-line version of the newsletter has a shot taken off the lagoonside balcony showing half of a complete rainbow. It's coming down in the cleavage of les mamelles in the French Lowlands. There's another shot of the Lambada coming back from her snorkel trip to Anguilla with the faintest hint of Statia on the far horizon. Finally there's a couple sunset shots from that evening. One has Tango on a sunset cruise and another is just the fabulous sunset on a cloudless horizon. There was a green flash.|
|The days stayed wonderful, with very sporadic rain showers and an extremely calm sea. The sunsets were lovely and on early Thursday morning all four islands were visible from our balcony: Saba (26 miles), Statia (35 miles), St Kitts (55 miles), and even the tip of Nevis at 90 miles out. This was the clearest view I have ever seen, but as the sun came up and heated the Caribbean, haze formed and started to obscure the views. The rest of the week turned out to be fantastic. Beautiful calm seas, spectacular visibility, and glorious sunsets, most culminating in a green flash as the sun sank into the sea. I have put entirely too many photos on line, but it was an amazing week.|
SXM-Beaches: Wendy K went to the Cupecoy last Sunday and, as expected, the rollers were too big for swimming, but they did bring some sand into the little cove. Moreover, we now have a bit of a beach at Sapphire Beach Club for the first time this season. The big beach at Grand Case Beach Club is about the same, not so big, in fact, it's rather private as there isn't enough sand for people to walk down to that side of the resort on the beach. The Petite Plage, where we spent the afternoon on the other side of the outcropping in front of Sunset Café, is quite large.
If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.
Beach Reading: I have started Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and find it most interesting. He actually follows four meals back to their origins. A meal at McDonald's largely ends up in an Iowa cornfield, in that the corn (sometimes rotated with soybeans) is the feed for the burger and the McNugget, the oil used to fry these delectables, the sweetener in the drinks, and more. Big organic doesn't come off much better, but read it for yourself. It's only $9.60 at Amazon.
Activities: We took advantage of the calm seas and on Thursday morning we went snorkeling with Sebby at Grand Case Beach Club Activites Desk. If you really want to snorkel and don't care about a day of sailing to and fro, this is the place. They are about a five minute boat ride from Creole Rock which is in the middle of a marine sanctuary. You get not only the boat ride, but an in-water guide for $30. Go with a friend and use the coupon on the site and get a free underwater camera or two chairs and an umbrella on the beach. Make it an entire day, as we did, by having lunch at Sunset Café afterwards. While snorkeling, we saw hundreds of sergeant majors, parrot fish, tangs, blueheads, snappers, and needlefish, two sting rays, several barracuda (definitely more than enough), lizardfish, pufferfish, trunkfish, a lobster, and something that stumped us all, including Laurent, our guide. We went all the way around Creole Rock and took about 90 minutes. Obviously, if you want to do less, they will respect your wishes, and they rarely go all the way around in even moderate seas. We had a spectacular day in a spectacular week, and took advantage of it.
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.
Construction: The French side, having gotten a better grip on their economy given their new status apart from Guadeloupe, have announced some improvements to the harbor and the airport. Roy Marlin pushed the button to start the new desal plant at the Cupecoy Yacht Club. They will be increasing water supply on the Dutch side by about a third, and none too soon.
Sapphire Beach Club: We have a beach! The Wifi is working. We even have people cleaning the jacuzzis now. There's new paint in many places. The elevators have worked perfectly for the entire month that we have been here. It appears that Jean Verdier is attempting to put this place back in shape to restore the Gold Crown status lost a few years ago. In other words, some of the requested special appropriation is being used wisely.
Nonetheless, 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.
Shopping: We stopped in at Royal Caribbean Jewelers here at Sapphire (although they do have shops in Philipsburg and at the Flamingo Resort). Martha got a very nice circle diamond pendant at what we thought was a good price.
Groceries: On the way back from our afternoon at the beach after snorkeling, we stopped at US Imports in Sandy Ground to pick up a passel of cheeses: Forme d'Ambert, an inexpensive bleu cheese, Petit Billy, one of the best goat cheeses, St Nectaire, Gruyere, Muenster, St Felicien, and Chaumes. We added bread, rillets d'oie (strips of goose meat in fat, spices, garlic, etc), and some paté. Add some red Savigny Les Beaune (see below) and have a great lunch on the balcony overlooking Saba, Statia, St Kitts, and Nevis.
Alcohol: We have tasted Tremblay's Petit Chablis from previous years and always opted to spend the extra money ($18.10 vs 15.60 at full retail) for his Chablis at Select Wine Cellar. This year we tried the 2006 Chablis against the 2006 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume ($27.90). In a blind tasting, I picked the Premier Cru on two different days, so there is some difference, but at $10 extra per bottle, I think I'll stay with the regular Chablis. These are the retail prices, posted on the website. I buy a case at a time and get a discount, but you can get a discount by using the coupon on the website. We also picked up some Jean-Jacques Girard Premier Cru at Select. We tend to like the 2005 Rouvrettes a bit more than the 2004 Peuillets, but they are both great.
We just tasted a 2003 Jacob's Creek Shiraz (Australia, about $10) against a 2004 Beringer Shiraz (California, about $11) both from at Grand Marché. Not much difference in overall flavor, but the Beringer had more fruit, possibly because it was younger, one year on the label, plus an extra half year by virtue of coming from the southern hemisphere. We love shiraz or the closely related zinfandel with spicy food. The French don't grow much shiraz and zinfandel comes only from California in my experience, so you rarely see these on French side wine lists or in French wine stores.
Traffic: There has been a lot of flap about a bridge/tunnel from Simpson Bay to Port de Plaisance or thereabouts, basically finding a way from the airport to the rest of the island without interfering with the mega-yacht traffic. The local environmentalists are against any intrusion into the lagoon. A Daily Herald editorial pointed out that the weekend traffic was so bad that the 11AM bridge opening closed at 11:25, only to reopen again for the regularly scheduled 11:30 opening, essentially blocking traffic for most of an hour. There was more trouble in the late afternoon. We made it over between the 4:30 and 5:30 openings to watch the NFL game at Skipjack's, but Brad, Tekkie, and the kids didn't make it until almost halftime.
The Dutch police were doing a traffic control on Saturday morning in front of Paradise Plaza Casino in Cole Bay. They appeared to be stopping Dutch side cars without proper registration. Nonetheless, we passed through there four times between noon and 1PM, eventually going by the airport and home without difficulty. The weeks right after the holidays are actually a bit slow on the island.
Gas prices have gone up at Cadisco. It's now $1.04 per liter, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash.
Small island story: The flap over the new status for the Netherlands Antilles has reached new lows, or possibly new heights of hilarity. A minor politician in Holland, Hero Brinkman, seems to have upset the local politicians by saying essentially that the Netherlands Antilles was a nest of thieves run by corrupt bureaucrats and should be sold on eBay for a euro. While that may be impolitic, possibly even untrue, fully 49% of his countrymen wish to rid themselves of the Netherlands Antilles and only 37% wish to have a continued relationship. This is all leading up to the fact that all of the islands in the Netherlands Antilles (except Statia) voted some time ago to disband the Netherlands Antilles. All of them thought they would be getting a better deal from the Netherlands if they got their money directly. It seems unlikely to me that Statia was the only one actually getting more than its fair share, but who knows. Now they are all squabbling as to how the debt of region is to be distributed around the various islands, but mostly about how much the Dutch are willing to cover. Brinkman was actually part of the Dutch group participating in these discussions. The representatives of the NA declared that they were offended and would not meet with him until he apologized and, moreover, that he couldn't enter their parliament. So, all meetings are off and the future of the NA is pushed off even further. The next day the other Dutch politicians expressed their displeasure at coming all the way to the sunny Caribbean only to have their meetings cancelled.
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
One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.
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
Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking : The Science and Lore of the Kitchen had an article on heat in the kitchen in the NY Times. Possibly I'm just plugging a fellow MIT-trained engineer's book, but cooking really can be improved by engineering or at least a bit of thought about the physical principles involved in the process.
On Sunday we went to Skipjack's to watch the late NFL game and have dinner. We are an hour ahead of the US, so the 4:30 kickoff came at 5:30 here and halftime was a great time to have a ribeye steak and some swordfish. Both come with salad, your choice of starch, and your choice of sauce. Martha managed to finish the swordfish, but half of the very large ribeye came home for Philly cheesesteak sandwiches on Monday. With four beers, the meal came to $69 plus a tip. Plenty of good food, big TV, lots of fun, on the lagoon, not much money - what more could you want.
Monday evening found us at Lal's near the airport. The property has been fixed up a bit over the years and the adjoining properties have also been improved. Nonetheless, it is still a colorful Creole cottage place with mismatched tables and chairs on a covered dining area next to the lagoon. It's not fine dining and attracts a crowd to match, which is to say that of the six tables on the porch, we knew people at two of the other five. The bar was full when we arrived at 7PM and all the tables filled up as we sipped our first beers. Reminds me of Yogi saying, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded." It's a fairly typical Indian menu lots of tasty breads, some appetizers, main courses of chicken, lamb, and mutton rotated through the various standard Indian preparations: vindaloo, masala, etc, and a few additions: some fish dishes and a couple South African delicacies. The main courses range from $7 to $12 and the breads and aps are around $4. We had samosas to start, a pair of fried dumplings with a dipping sauce containing cilantro, lime, chiles, garlic, and mint. We moved on to the chicken vindaloo and chicken tikka masala with rice and a raita (yogurt with vegetables and spices) with an onion kulcha bread. The vindaloos come from central and SW coastal India and are generally the hottest of the curries. (Here at Lal's you can request anything to be made mild, medium, or hot). Typically they contain red chilies, usually tamarind, and a some of the following: mustard, ginger, pepper, fenugreek, cumin, cloves, and coriander. The masala is less well-defined, leaving the chef more room to develop his own style. It was all good and leaving the beers off, we spent $27 and took home enough for lunch. Don't leave the beers off as Lal has one of the largest and best selections of beer on the island. I used to stop in here for a Stella Artois for dessert on my way home from other restaurants. Tonight I had two dark Leffes, an exceptionally tasty Belgian beer with a hint of sweetness. So what is the point of going here? As I see it, the place has only a half dozen things going for it: Good, interesting food, low prices, great beers, parking (this is getting to be very important), music (rock and roll), and Lal. Check it out.
On Wednesday night we went to Le Cottage Restaurant for some very interesting food. The chef has moved on and the sous-chef has taken his place and is doing similar food quite well. We arrived a bit early and got seated on the porch at the water view table. Bruno informed us that from now on we should call this table entre deux mers, like the wine, between two seas, because on one side is the lobster tank and on the other is the view of the sea - if you look carefully through L'Escapade Restaurant across the street. Hyperbole is built into the entre deux mers wine appellation, as the two "seas" in the name are actually two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne in the Bordeaux region. We were offered the wine list which we returned as we put ourselves in Stephane's care. He should up smartly with glasses of a 2006 Viognier Janelles from Pays d'Oc. The wine babble says viognier has a powerful, rich, and complex aroma that often seems like overripe apricots mixed with orange blossoms or acacia. It came primarily from the Rhone region (Condrieu, in particular) until Rhone varieties got trendy in California where they started to make a varietal. It really is powerful, perhaps too powerful, so the French style of blending some viognier into the mix has always appealed to me more than the California versions. This particular wine comes from the south of France and may lack some of the finesse fund in the Rhone region, but certainly made a perfect aperitif. This also is why we Stephane choose our wines. He kisses a lot of frogs to find a prince. Maybe that's not the right simile, but he does taste many wines in order to find good, yet inexpensive, wines to serve by the glass. An amuse bouche arrived as a glass containing a velouté of lotte topped with a mousse of ginger with a crispy potato chip and a sprig of dill. Velouté refers to velvet, meaning a some of the lotte's texture is preserved. We were off to a fine start. I had ordered the snails which arrived on a plate about 14 inches wide and six inches deep. The snails marched from a cylinder of sautéed garlic in an edible wrapper along a graceful trail of garlic and parsley sauce toward a glass of garlic foam. Martha's ap was a layered crab and celeriac taste sensation with a celery juice cocktail and a bit of tomato tartare on another crispy potato chip. These potato chips are real potatoes run through the mandoline twice, producing something like a Ruffles potato chip. It tastes good because the ratio of fat to potato is high and it tastes interesting because it has a very satisfying crunch. Martha's main course was the quail appetizer. Bruno actually encourages people to try two aps, or even one, to save room for the wonderful soufflés on the dessert list. The quail came with a mousse of peas in a glass and a purée of peas on the plate plus a bit of foie gras. I had the roasted lotte with olives and bacon accompanied by eggplant and zuchini with parmesan cheese, a cumin flavored breadstick, and a red pepper sorbet. Stephane served a Fixin from Select Wine Cellar with the main course and it was wonderful with all the flavors. The book on Fixin is that it is a village which can produce some good value wines, although they never achieve greatness. I guess I agree, but when Stephane (and Marina and Sylvain at Select) choose one, it's better than the average. I haven't waxed ecstatic about the dinner, mostly because I think the descriptions should do it by themselves. The range of tastes and textures in these dishes is amazing. Moreover they work together well and are presented with style and whimsy. Add in very good wines at very good prices, all served by a great staff, and you'll have a great time. Don't forget to ask for the entre deux mers table when you make your reservation. That is a joke. The view that you will have of the Caribbean is miniscule, so any table is fine. In fact, large parties should check out the new table inside that can seat up to 14 people. There's a photo on the website. Our dinner cost 109 euros and Bruno used a good exchange rate bringing it to about $140, very reasonable for food and wine of this quality.
Thursday lunch, after snorkeling, was at Sunset Café inside the gated compound of Grand Case Beach Club. We had snorkeled in the morning and met Karen (from Montmartre Restaurant) for lunch. She and Pascal have sold Montmartre, but still own Sunset Café and Auberge Gourmande. It's ironic that she was named the hostess of the year by Gault-Millau in the year that they sold the restaurant. Martha and I had salads (crab and turkey for me and seafood for Martha) as we replaced our fluids lost in some major snorkeling. I chose the Carte Noir rosé for some of the replenishment. Karen had a serious lunch, the shrimp in a Creole sauce, and it looked good. If they have them, get the moules. They are one of the best preparations on the island. All in all, you can have a great view from a deck cantilevered over the waters of Grand Case Bay and get very good food and service. They say they are open for breakfast, although I've never tested them, lunch and dinner. Dinner is quite nice with lights on the water and Anguilla in the distance. A reservation for a waterfront table would be a good idea.
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night from 15 January 2007, ie next week. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot. We've stopped in twice for a Leffe for dessert on the way home.
Changes: While we were at Lal's waiting for our drinks, I wandered over to JO's Steakhouse. It's in the place where Aqua was out on the dock next to Lal's. It really is a steakhouse with a heavy concentration on various very good cuts of very good beef (Kobe, Angus) at steakhouse prices. I saw a $67 menu item. I asked a very helpful waiter for the wine list and got a half sheet of paper with a dozen wines on it. You would have a tough time writing down six red wines that would mystify me, but they managed it. Their business card says they are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and they do take out.
Fathom's is for sale. Got a spare million three?
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. 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.