St Maarten/St Martin
|Weather: Sunday, 13 Jan, was another spectacular day, with a bit of rain, and starting to get cool. Monday and Tuesday were bitter cold, in the low 70's and socks were welcome. There were lots of clouds around, more than enough rain and mist, but by sunset things had cleared up (at least to the west) and there was a fabulous green flash. Wednesday morning brought two waves of tropical downpours over Sapphire before breakfast. Thursday was fine but the haze on the Caribbean obscured most of the islands, leaving only Saba slightly visible. By Friday, even Saba had disappeared. On Saturday a tropical downpour passed over for breakfast and the morning was generally miserable, but things cleared out after lunch. It still was not perfect as I entered the bedroom about 5PM and looked out at the lagoon, I commented that it was a day of grey skies and whitecaps. As I got closer to the sliding glass doors, I had to add "rainbows". There was a full semi-circle and a second larger rainbow was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to form.|
Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.
Today's (20 Jan) sunset will be at 5:56PM.
Full moon dates for 2008 are: 22 Jan, 21 Feb, 21 Mar, 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec.
SXM-Beaches: Lots of beach in the middle of Orient near Kokomarina. The entrance to Orient Beach was lovely as the bougainvillea was in full flower in the median of the roadway.
If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.
Beach Reading: I'm still reading 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. The Daily Herald reported that Greenland's ice pack is smaller than it has been in 50 years. It doesn't seem related, but it is, as immense amounts of energy are used to make nitrogen fertilizer in order to grow corn. Then, immense amounts of energy are used to transport that corn to cattle and the cattle from farm to feeder lot to slaughterhouse. The final journey requires a refrigerated truck to bring the meat to the consumer. All that energy ends up as carbon dioxide leading to global warming.
Construction: Divi is in the middle of a massive renovation, having upgraded about half the rooms. They predict they will be done by December.
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.
Travel: Jet Blue's inaugural flight arrived this week. They are considerably cheaper than American. It's worth a look and we can all hope that they influence American, the 500 pound gorilla in this market.
If you didn't know this, the jokers on scooters dispensing scratch tickets have nothing but winners. Unfortunately, you'll be a loser as the prize allows you to join Grand Getaway Vacations. It's a scam. Don't do it.
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 to the Endless Summer store in Simpson Bay to look for a new bathing suit for Martha. They have an almost endless selection. There is another store near the foot of Pburg on Front Street, quite convenient for cruiseship passengers. The website had a coupon for 10% off.
Groceries: There was an island-wide milk shortage. We stopped at three places beginning on Saturday and found no milk. We did find some Old Amsterdam cheese ($9.50 per pound) at the Grand Marche when we looked there and some Old Gouda (only $6.50 per pound) at the Maho Food Express when we looked there. The Old Amsterdam is similar to Parmesan, not quite as dense and flavorful, but considerably cheaper. The old Gouda is not close, but pretty good. Milk was finally available by Thursday.
Alcohol: We tasted a Cotes du Rhone from Grand Marche (La Gibiciere, $6.95) against a Ch de l'Estagnol ($9.90) version from Select Wine Cellar, both 2006. It's not really a comparison as the version from Select cost 30% more and had a gold medal from Concours des Grands Vins de France. If you are just buying for the buzz, the Gibiciere came in at a very hot 14% alcohol. However, the Estagnol was a much more complex and well-balanced wine. There is a coupon on the website for a 10% discount on any purchase and case discounts are normal. That cuts the difference down to about a buck and I say, go with the good stuff.
Traffic: We have been told that the gendarmes are not doing traffic stops as much as they were last year. Indeed, we have yet to see a traffic stop, but have seen plenty of gendarmes. Frankly, I don't think that drunk driving was causing too many problems. In my mind, the real problem is unlicensed, uninsured drivers driving unregistered, uninspected cars and, more likely, scooters. Just a reminder, however, the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) on the French side is 0.05 versus 0.08 in the US. A drink (12 ounces of beer at 5%, 5 ounces of wine at 12%, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor - it's all 0.6 ounces of alcohol) will raise the BAC for a 150 pound man by 0.02. The passage of an hour will lower it by 0.02. Start with a before dinner drink, split a bottle of wine over dinner (five glasses, 2.5 each), and have an after dinner drink and you are at 4.5 times 0.02 = 0.09. Do that over two hours and you can subtract 2 times 0.02 = 0.04, getting a BAC of 0.05, the legal limit. In other words, you can enjoy wine and more with your dinner on the French side.
And speaking of unlicensed, uninsured drivers driving unregistered, uninspected cars: Last week I mentioned that we went through a traffic stop in Cole Bay at mid-day. The Daily Herald announced that 47 tickets were issued in that stop. We saw the tow truck there, presumably for taking away some of the unregistered vehicles. Gas prices have gone up at Cadisco. It's now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.02 in Sandy Ground, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash and I think they are still cheaper than the Dutch side.
Nature: There are mosquitos carrying Dengue fever down here. The Dutch side reported 30 cases last month and the French side reported more. Basically, the Dutch have solved most of the problem by paving every square inch. If they ever figure out that water flows downhill, they will actually get rid of the puddles that form breeding grounds, eliminating the problem. The French lag considerably behind in concrete, actually have some open areas left, so they have been spraying them. Seriously, there are probably 100,000 residents on this island and many visitors. Less than a quarter percent of residents were infected last month and that was five to ten times earlier figures. It's no fun to get Dengue as there is great pain, but seldom death. The mosquito that carries Dengue does not travel far from its breeding grounds and is not active at night. A bit of vigilence (or even mosquito spray) during the day would be a good precaution.
Small island story: Recently the Taxi Association announced that they were adding between seven and eight new drivers to their association. The article, as many articles do in the Daily Herald first had the author of the article saying that the Taxi association would be doing this and then had a quote from the official saying exactly the same thing, ie that "between seven and eight people would be added". That's funny enough, but this was in response to the association being accused of discrimination. They defended themselves saying that they couldn't add too many people to the taxi association because they only had a concession for 120 taxis at the new cruiseship terminal and they already had more than that. Gotta love a country where somebody has permission to do so much of something and then claims to be a good doobie for only doing a little bit more.
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
Saint Séverin Restaurant aided by Francois of Philipsburg Liquors is celebrating St Vincent's on 25 January. Vincent is the patron saint of winemakers and is especially revered in Burgundy, so the evening promises to bring hearty Burgundian food (snails, coq au vin, local cheeses and desserts plus a plethora of Pinot Noir and the odd bit of chardonnay). It starts at 8ish and we'll be there. Call 590 87 97 00 for reservations.
On Sunday we went to Ric's Place to watch the SD-Indianapolis game. It's a nice place on the lagoon almost at the Dutch bridge. There's plenty of TV's spread over two rooms and the bar. Buck and a quarter Miller Lite during the games plus Tex-Mex food. It's also for sale, less than half the price of Fathoms, if you are interested.
On Tuesday for our tenth wedding anniversary we started celebrations with a champagne from Select Wine Cellar at home, watching as the sun sink into the sea with a spectacular green flash.
We then went over to Bamboo Bernies to make reservations. Surprised? They are still open but struggling through the construction that has finally started at Caravanserai. They were supposed to move to the space previously occupied by Hanabi above the Subway at the northern end of Maho Plaza in December. Current thinking is that it may happen in late February. In the meantime, the bar and private jungle tables have been subsumed into the construction site, along with the great deals during happy hour that prevailed for the last couple years. Nothing like a free drink while you watch the sunset. Now there is a happy hour with half price drinks in the main sushi bar/dining room which is reached by a long (150 step) walkway. It's open with the usual menu and there is plenty of parking.
As we drove back, we stopped at the Maho Food Express so Martha could look for milk and I snuck over to Paris Bistro to catch a song or two from Chocolate Sax Watts on saxophone. He's no Bill Clinton and that's a good thing.
We then went to Mario's Bistro for our tenth wedding anniversary. It was packed, absolutely full as we walked in for a 9PM reservation. While enjoying a drink at the bar, I got to chatting with the lady next to me and found out she and her husband owned Vermillion Press, the company that printed the Mario's Bistro Cookbook. As mentioned in an earlier newsletter, Martyne is no longer working at the restaurant as she is studying to become a doctor. Didier led us to a corner waterfront table and we ordered a bottle of 2001 Mercurey Premier Cru. It's lighter than the bigger names on the list (Pommard, Beaune, etc) and we felt it would go well with the lighter dinner we were going to have this late at night. We started with a mushroom risotto topped with crisp Serrano ham bits and slices of parmesan cheese (15€) - tasty and subtle, perfect for a light Burgundy. The dish was a wonderful contrast of creamy smooth risotto with crisp fried ham. Our dinners were the tuna topped with bleu cheese on a bed of gnocchi with a light red sauce (26€) and pistachio crusted mahi with a plantain corndog and a variety of veg including corn and black beans (25€). The tuna dish is an old standby (it's in the cookbook) blending feather light gnocchi with firmer tuna topped with a bold flavor, but again, the Mercurey held up. Martha's mahi is an even lighter fish, but the flavors and textures in the veg were quite bold. We ended with a single glass of Armagnac.
On Wednesday we went to Bamboo Bernies for the gyoza sampler and a bridge full of sushi. The dinner hour is the run-up to Wednesday's Ladies Night when all ladies drink for free, so there were plenty of people there. The sampler contains four each of three different approaches to gyoza, generally some veg and/or meat in a wrapper. One was fried crispy, one was not, and the third was an even bigger mystery, but all were good ($14). The bridge contained close to 30 pieces of sushi or sashimi ($55) - all good, and the advantage of sitting at the sushi bar is that extra ginger and wasabi are available immediately. We washed this all down with four Stella Artois ($5 each). They do add the 3% turnover tax to the bill and a 15% tip, so the total price was about $104. You do feel virtuous about eating fish with minimal added fat, but we also felt quite satisfied on only a C-note.
|On Thursday we went to Kokomarina on Orient Beach for a great lunch with Martyne from Mario's Bistro. Koko and Marina run this upscale lolo just south of Kontiki. It's one of the few that has tablecloths and there are real plates and silverware. Nonetheless, accepting dollars at 1 to 1 keeps the prices low. The wine list is slim but has three whites, three reds, and two rosés at quite reasonable prices. We choose the Pamplonne rosé ($25) for a change from our usual Lacoste, Rosé d'une Nuit. The Pamplonne is a bit drier. Martha had the SKY salad with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, sautéed potatoes, bacon, and smoked duck breast. Martyne had the chicken caesar and I had the flank steak wrapped around a bit of goat cheese with potatoes (in this case I chose a tasty gratin, but all the usual suspects are available) some tasty veg and a bit of salad.|
|On Friday night we returned to Orient Village for their big night. The square is filled with vendors and on this evening, a singer/saxophone duet was performing on the bandstand. We were dining outside of Tai Chi Restaurant under a seagrape tree festooned with colorful lights about 30 feet from the bandstand. We started with the spring rolls, two rice wrappers loaded with veg, shrimp, vermicelli, some spearmint, and more. I expect we'll have the recipe for this tasty treat in a future issue of St Maarten Events. They have good sushi here, but given our earlier meal at Bamboo Bernies, we opted for the Thai cuisine. I had a combo chicken, shrimp, and beef dish on noodles and Martha had Thai shrimp with rice.|
|We went to Halsey's Restaurant for dinner on Saturday evening. Their catchphrase is "Fine Dining-Unrefined." The dining really is fine as this is one of the impressive menus in Simpson Bay, in no small part because Ryan Halsey is in the kitchen. The service is also pretty good because Jessica Halsey is in the dining room. The unrefined refers to the tent on a dock that serves as the dining room. Even that is quite pleasant on warm and calm evenings as the view is of the mega-yacht marina a few hundred feet away. We pulled up to an empty spot in front of the restaurant and were promptly taken straight to our reserved corner table on the water. The menu has two pages of interesting appetizers forcing us to choose between scallops wrapped in proscuitto, a portobello mushroom topped with marinara sauce, bleu & goat cheeses, and a port wine reduction, plus several more and a few specials. We choose the crabcakes with a remoulade and received two large crabcakes with a dollop of caviar a few bits of crisp chopped peppers surrounded by a slightly spicy sauce. We were off to a great start and quite happy that we had ordered the 2004 Chateauneuf du Papa from Mont Redon ($52), as a good sturdy Rhone wine is excellent with spicy food. We have always liked that Halsey's brings out a very tasty green salad after the ap. It's good and good for you.|
Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night in Grand Case until April. Gerald from L'Escapade Restaurant said the first night (15 Jan) attracted quite a crowd. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot. We have stopped in twice for a dark Leffe for dessert on the way home.
Changes: The new St Maarten Events has arrived on the island after a tortuous journey through rough seas. It contains the article that we wrote on Créole food featuring recipes from Antoine Restaurant, L'Escargot Restaurant, Skipjack's, and Ti Coin Créole.
St Severin has new owners. It's the former owners of Balaou. Balaou moved from Anse Marcel to Grand Case, into the main road location of Maeva as Maevea moved onto restaurant row. Maeva is now a store, Balaou became Enjoy with new owners, and now is an empty shell. Dominique had a loyal following of local business people at St Severin enjoying his good food in good quantities at good prices. The location was unlikely to attract tourists, but many of the ex-pats showed up.
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).
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:
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.