Logo

St Maarten/St Martin
22 March 2009 Newsletter

Other newsletters
Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings

ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Sunday had several whiteouts with a lot of haze on the horizon. The photo on the right is a large sailboat passing our balcony with just a hazy hint of Saba in the background on the left. Monday was more of the same. The wind is still kicking up whitecaps on the lagoon, whiteouts blot out the sun, and the temperature didn't get past the mid-70s. The rainbow photo shows how the week went. The shack in the bottom left is where the Haitian squatter lives on the Villages of Cupecoy property. It had stopped raining by Monday evening and Tuesday arrived with blue skies and a few puffy white clouds, but the horizon was still very hazy. As it warmed up to 81F, the clouds departed and the haze lifted a bit such that Saba was just barely visible. Wednesday was better still and by Thursday morning we could easily see Saba and Statia, while sharp eyes could pick out some features of St Kitts. The lagoon was calm and a hint of a warm breeze drifted through the condo. As the sun burned off the haze, even Nevis appeared in the distance, about 80 miles away. The photo below right shows Random Wind running past Saba mid-morning.   Sailboat passing by Saba
Rainbow   Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning turned out to be some of the best weather we have had all season. Saturday night in the garden at Blue Martini in Grand Case was wonderful. We stopped in after dinner, had a couple Leffes on tap, and listened to reggae from Barbwire until midnight. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Here's the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. We've just passed the equinox (20 March). On that day we all got 12 hours of sunlight. After that date, those of you further north will get more sunlight than we get here on the island. Sunset today is at 6:20 and the moon is a waning crescent. Full moons for 2009 are 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec. Random Wind and Saba
Cupecoy Beach   SXM-Beaches: For St Paddy's Day several people showed up on Cupecoy Beach wearing green bow ties. That's it. Nothing else and no photos. It turned out to be a lovely day at the beach.   Cupecoy Beach

Beach reading: T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton - I've just started this and like it so far. It's been 27 years since Kinsey Millhone came on the scene in A is for Alibi. In those 27 years, she has only aged 5 years, so in this twentieth novel, the internet is in the future. Thus, it is a tale of old-fashioned identify theft (and elder abuse). By default, Millhone, a private investigator in the small Southern California town of Santa Teresa, assumes responsibility for the well-being of an old neighbor, Gus Vronsky, injured in a fall. After Vronsky's great-niece arranges to hire a home aide, Solana Rojas, Millhone begins to suspect that Rojas is not all that she seems. Since the reader knows from the start that an unscrupulous master manipulator has stolen the Rojas persona, the plot focuses not on whodunit but on the battle of wits Millhone wages with an unconventional and formidable adversary. Grafton's mastery of dialog and her portrayal of the limits of good intentions make this one of the series' high points. The best part, is that if you like this one, there are 19 others! Trespass Cover

Cover to Cover, King Bob and David
  Activities: Here's Bob and David from Cover to Cover at their Wednesday night show at Peg Leg Pub. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Construction: The Cove at Cupecoy appears to be stirring. Late last season they sold their sales office up on the main road through Cupecoy and it was loaded on a flatbed and trucked off. I was pretty sure that was because of dismal sales as no construction, other than the lookout tower (bottom left of photo), ever appeared on the site. Late last week this crane appeared. It appears that they are taking lagoon leavings from the Cupecoy Yacht Club and spreading them around the property. It's really hard to believe that this economy can support the project they announced.

  Cove at Cupecoy

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in low season (starting 15 April) for $1000 per week. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

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 esk@sxm-info.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.

  ginger

Guadeloupe melon   Groceries: The strike in the French islands is over and we are now getting Guadeloupe melons again. We just got one at Grand March in Cole Bay that was fabulous. We had to wait about four days for it to ripen, but it was wonderfully sweet with a luscious texture. We also bought some Serrano ham from the Grand March and the combination could only be improved with some Chateau La Lieue ros on a bright sunny day!

GEBE: This has been a bad week for electricity. On Sunday there was an Dutch side outage that lasted nine hours. There were more outages on the following days, mostly of shorter duration. We don't notice much as Sapphire has an emergency generator that automatically comes on and energizes a couple circuits in each unit, but the rest of the island was up in arms. We heard a rumor that said GEBE had run out of fuel for the diesel generators. This started because after the Sunday outage a tanker was seen unloading oil in Cay Bay. GEBE, of course, gave other reasons for the outage, and they may be telling the truth as someone we know who repairs computer boards has not been available this week as he was working feverishly for GEBE.

Alcohol: We stopped at Select Wine Cellar on our way back from Orient on Thursday and caught Sylvain having a late lunch at Champagne Snack Bar with Eric from Thai Fou. Eric is the brother of Julien, the chef at sister restaurant Moulin Fou. Champagne had a venison special on blackboard and they had enjoyed a Chateauneuf du Pape and this Nuits-Saint-Georges with the venison. We joined in for the last bottle of 2003 Pommard from Chantal Lescure which was quite pleasant. For dessert we had the sweet Domaine Pouderoux Maury.

  Wines

Crime: Last week I reported that Daily Herald said that the Dutch side police got 23 new vehicles. That was from Holland. The paper noted that they also got 21 vehicles from local car dealers. They are so awash in cars that they have started chasing suspected criminals. On Monday night they saw a car with two masked occupants and gave chase, heading through Cole Bay toward Marigot and totaled their "cruiser" by hitting the wall on Union Road.

Nature: Martha, our resident ornithologist, has determined that this is a shiny cowbird family. They are shiny black, quite noisy, and a common bird throughout much of South America. Over the last couple decades the species spread through the Caribbean and into the United States. A nest parasite like other cowbirds, its spread has imperiled a number of endangered bird species in the Caribbean and raised conservation concerns in the United States. This pair kicked a mourning dove couple out of this nest in the palm tree growing up toward our balcony. The crown of the tree reaches the fourth floor and the nest is there amongst the beginnings of the palm fronds. I cranked up the zoom and steadied the camera on the railing to get this shot of the father feeding his three fledglings. This guy and his mate use our ashtray/birdbath on our balcony but don't seem to eat the sugar in our feeder even though the sugar birds seem to love it.

  Blackbird and three fledglings


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 28 December to 1 March 2009
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more


Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining accommodations with dinners and activities.

Future Contests:

1 March to 26 April 2009
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more



RESTAURANTS


On 15 Mar the euro was at $1.291. Today it is at $1.358. That's a major change, about 5%. It appears that the rest of the world is a bit worried about all the US dollars we will be printing over the next few years. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. Pirate Beach Bar's menu is in dollars, no conversion necessary. Momo at Ti Bouchon says his menu is in dollars also. We had a lunch at Kokomarina where the menu proclaims 1 to 1. Le France in Marigot's Marina Royale is doing 1 to 1 also. L'Auberge Gourmande is doing $1.2 to 1 . We'll let you know as we hear from more of them.

Marrakech Restaurant
On Monday night we headed to an exotic dinner at Marrakech Restaurant in Marigot near the stadium on Rue de Hollande. Unless something is happening at the stadium, there is generally plenty of parking across the street from the restaurant. It's a beautiful, opulent place and we had the corner of this room all to ourselves for most of the evening. We started with water and a bottle of the 2005 Domaine Larroque from Morocco ($39). It's a Shiraz/Merlot blend that turned out to be quite nice with spicy food.

Our appetizer was the usual assortment of a dozen "salads" with a side dish of spicy harissa and a basket containing slices of warm pita bread (about 10). They are not exactly salads as we know them, but here they are starting at the top left and working across, then down: green peas hummus with paprika and olive oil; wheat berries with herbs; potato salad with egg with garlic; hummus with chick peas; pickled bell pepper with vinegar and garlic; Moroccan salsa with preserved lemon; peppers and tomatoes with cilantro; Moroccan ratatouille with eggplant; grated carrots with rosewater; grated cucumber with spices; beets with cinnamon and sesame seeds; and sweet tomato jam with almond slices.

Martha choose the kefta tajine with couscous, beef meatballs gently simmered with vegetables, olives, preserved lemon, garlic, and spices. The spices usually are a combination of cumin, ginger, pepper, saffron, and turmeric. I had my usual merguez couscous, tasty, slightly spicy sausages on top of a bed of couscous steamed with various vegetables. It's served with a bowl of broth, extra chick peas, and a side bowl of raisins and cooked onions. It's certainly a different set of spices than we use in the west. Moreover, they blend different flavors, often combining sweet (raisins) with savory (onions, or even the merguez). For the most part, the meal was not hot spicy, although adding a dab of harissa would accomplish that if desired. It was full-flavored and the wine was wonderful with the meal, so much so that I wanted another bottle, but the gendarmes would not approve. We packaged up enough for a lunch or two and finished with espresso. The tajines and couscous dishes start below 20 and reach the mid 20s. Our total dinner (with two lunches in the fridge) cost $139 using a reasonable exchange rate. I think that is quite inexpensive, especially when the wine was a bit over $50.

  Domaine Larroque
Appetizer table Couscous with merguez

Horny Toad
St Paddy's Day Party at
The Horny Toad Guesthouse
We had our usual St Paddy's day dinner at The Horny Toad Guesthouse on Simpson Bay. It's an invite only affair, essentially open to the guests and a few invited friends. If you can't get an invite, see if you can get a room. Betty is always having parties: Thanksgiving, Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, Heineken Regatta, St Paddy's Day, etc.
Corned beef dinner
  Cake   This holiday brings out the usual boiled cabbage, carrots, and potatoes with some fabulous corned beef. Dessert was a green cake with Etna ice cream followed by a round of drinks, either grasshoppers for their green color or Bailey's Irish Cream. The lovely sunset behind Beacon Hill was taken from the seawall on the edge of the property, looking west along about half of Simpson Bay Beach.   Sunset on Simpson Bay

Sol Luna Restaurant
On Wednesday evening we went to Sol Luna Restaurant in Mont Vernon. It's owned by Chef Christian and his wife, Bridget, who runs the front of the house which includes daughter Charlotte. We went with friends and having made a reservation, got a lovely fourtop on the porch. The photo was taken a few years ago during the day, but you get the idea, the porch is surrounded by luxurious plantings. We ordered water and the 2003 Chateau de Beaune from Bouchard (50). The 2005 is available in some places on the island and is a better year, but a bit young. The 2003 vintage was as good as any in the last 18 years except the 2005, but it has the advantage that it is drinkable now. Our friends split the mesclun salad and Martha and I shared the tuna carpaccio which had wonderful tuna with wakame seaweed, onions, olive oil, and a hint of heat.
Corner table
There are meat courses, but Chef Christan does wonders with fish, and that starts with bringing it onto the island. He claims that he and Le Pressoir are the only ones on the island with turbot, a European flatfish similar to Dover sole. We went in other directions, choosing the bouride (a creamy fish soup, right, 35), a shrimp and scallop duo (below left, 30), a cioppino (the Italian version of fish soup based on tomatoes, below center, 35), and my sweetbread raviolis with morels in a creamy sauce (below right, 26). Given that the euro has climbed back up over 1.3 to the dollar, the fish soups are getting close to $50, but they contain a lot of fish in very tasty preparation. I know, I sampled them. The sweetbreads were quite good and if you ever felt squeamish about them, this may be the perfect starter dish as they are cut up and hidden in the raviolis. They still have the taste and texture of sweetbreads bathed in a wonderful mushroom sauce. For dessert we had the warm banana and chocolate mousse concoction with espressos and cappuccino. Complimentary flavored rums finished a meal that came to about $175 per couple. Bouride
Shrimp and Scallops Cioppino Sweetbread raviolis

 
Bikini Beach Restaurant
On Thursday we headed over to Bikini Beach at Orient for lunch with our toes in the sand. As we walked in, we noticed Mr Skin playing guitar. We headed over to a table in the corner and ordered a bottle of Chateau Moutete, a nice rose for 20. Later, Lisa, the manager, asked if we had noticed the ross on menu. There were several, ending with a magnum. The heading said "La Vie en Rose" which literally translates as "life in pink", as in the pink of health, a better translation than the often used "life in rose-colored glasses" with its Pollyanna-ish connotations.
  Bikini Beach logo  
  Mr Skin   The menu has the usual hamburger, fries, etc, but Lisa, the long-time manager, has been interested in Thailand for some time. There is a Bhudda next to the restaurant staring out to Green Cay and a Thai cook in the kitchen. We ordered two salads for lunch, Martha opting for beef, while I took the squid with Thai, or at least Oriental, flavorings. The beef was quite tasty and the squid was cooked perfectly, not an easy task. There was more squid in this salad than I have seen in a long time. The Asian flavors were quite interesting, especially when enhanced by the local Kalina Hot Sauce. It contained no high fructose corn syrup, no xanthan gum, no modified corn starch, and no preservatives, a rare find in today's prepared food aisle. It said it was available at the Howell Center in Marigot.   Mr Skin  
  View Kalina hot sauce Squid salad  
   

There are many lovely views to be had at Bikini Beach. Orient Bay and Green Cay are just two of them.  

 
  View Love Guard Cashier Ana, our waitress  

 
L'Escargot Restaurant
On Friday we headed to L'Escargot Restaurant in Pburg for snails and a bit more. We ordered water, the Minuty ros, and the snail sampler to start. Escargot features snails seven different ways and the sampler gives you a chance to try several of them. Martha had a conch salad and, as Vernon touted the fresh mahi, I had that. The mahi was indeed fresh and came with some sauted leeks, a garlicky potato gratin, and some carrot slices. We finished with some complimentary banana rum. They do add 15% service and even the 3% turnover tax to the bill as mentioned on the menu. Our bill came to $94, as the wine was not inexpensive. Friday nights are special at Escargot as a cabaret troupe takes over at about 9:30PM. That's "Christine Aguilera" on the right and there are many more photos on the website.
Snail sampler

Snail sampler
mahi Conch Salad

Christine Aguilera

 
Hibiscus Restaurant
On Saturday we headed to Grand Case for a dinner at Hibiscus Restaurant. We parked in the central lot and turned right, walking past the lolos, over the bridge, and past the blocked off free parking area to the restaurant. Franco Burato is the chef (he's on the right with sous-chef/daughter Julia) and his wife Alexandra runs the front of this very small Crole house. The menu is large and contains a little bit of Crole, some French, and quite a bit from Franco's homeland: Italy. The wine list is extensive with an excellent section of Italian wines. We felt a bit outrageous and ordered the 2003 Barolo from the Marchesi di Barolo (66). It wasn't very busy so Franco offered to do a tasting menu around the Barolo for us.

The wine, after it was decanted and had warmed up a bit, was superb. Except for 2002, every year on the vintage chart for Piedmont (the larger area around Barolo) is rated very good or better all the way back to 1992, with 96, '00, and '01 being the best. The chart suggests that all the years going back to 1997 are good to drink or hold. The nebbiolo grape produces a lush nose and a robust taste. Given a bit of air, it is quite good even when young, but will last a long time in great years - the 1988 is still rated drink/hold.

We heard quite a racket in the kitchen, sounding like remodeling during the dinner hour, and shortly thereafter Alessandra appeared with two lovely plates of beef carpaccio on a bed of the crispest arugula, topped with parmesan shavings, and drizzled with truffle oil. Martha remarked that when she was serving carpaccio in her restaurant, it was pounded quite vigorously - so much for remodeling. This is a superb dish combining the lubriciousness of truffle oil with the only slightly more solid beef slices and adding the wonderful texture of parmesan to the crisp crunch of absolutely fresh arugula. In addition to being several taste sensations, the carpaccio was wonderful with the wine.

Our next course was a sweetbread risotto with fresh thyme and grated parmesan. This may be another "starter" dish for the sweetbread-phobic as the sweetbreads are cut into smaller bits and distributed throughout the risotto. This adds an interesting texture to the risotto making this another wonderful dish. Our main course was tournedos Rossini, tender beef filet cooked perfectly, topped with foie gras, with a demi-glace sauce. We finished with espressos and limoncello grappa. Our bill for dinner was 120, quite good for food of this caliber, and the wine and water added another 71. Despite the euro hitting 1.35, we were offered an exchange rate of 1.2, bringing the cost to about $230. That's a bit of money, but almost $100 went for the outstanding wine and there were many less expensive bottles available.

  Julia

Barolo

 

News and Changes: It appears that the Blue Martini on Airport Road in Simpson Bay will be presenting semi-famous musicians: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band with Eddie and the Cruisers on 22 Mar (tonite!) and Firefall and Al Stewart on 11 April. This is not the Blue Martini in Grand Case and is not related to the Blue Martini in Grand Case. The one in Grand Case has an outdoor garden that features music a couple times each week. Check their website for bands, dates, and times.

John Abbot is playing pop/rock at Sopranos in March.

Karakter, on Simpson Bay Beach near Mary's Boon, is having a beach dance at 6:30 on the first Friday of every month.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Gunslinger's Steel Pan Band Tuesday Night in Grand Case: Grand Case is again having a Harmony Night on Tuesday. Restaurant Row will be blocked off and filled with street vendors, music, dancers, and parades. Here's some photos from previous years.

Friday Night in Orient Village: Once again Orient Village is bringing in a band and several vendors on Friday evening for a lively time in their square.

Band in the square at Orient

  Our condo: We are here until 15 April and have a good bit of the following two months rented already. The condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April 2009 to 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season that is available will be $1500 per week. It will be unavailable from 15 January 2009 until 15 April 2009. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. The rate is so good and the coupons are so popular that we get about 60% occupancy in the low season (we are already at 30%). If you want a week, it's best to book early.

It's hard to use the words Cap Juluca and bargain in the same sentence, but having just spent $20 million on renovating the resort, the new owners are now offering two nights for the price of one from March 14 - April 12, 2009. If you are coming late in the season and wish to experience awesome luxury at half price, consider a two day trip. Stuck at the beginning of a timeshare week, you may save a few bucks on airfare by avoiding Saturday. You'll certainly avoid the crowds at the airport. We stayed here about two years ago and wrote about it in our features section. It will cost about $70 each way for the ferry and a taxi (per couple). Fantastic late breakfasts that carried us thrugh to dinner were included in the room cost, but you'll spend a few bucks on dinner. Import duties are quite high in Anguilla so wine and food, almost all imported, costs more than on SXM.  

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed as our preferred medical travel insurance partner. Any medical travel insurance will get you back to the US, but SkyMed takes you home. Where's home? From their website: "Our definition of home is simple: Home is where you say it is. When struck by the unexpected, our service takes you home.  

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attach trial.

 

  Our article featuring four recipes from four restaurants from Cupecoy to Sandy Ground has been published in St Maarten Events and is available on the island. Look for a moules appetizer from Mario's Bistro, a vichyssoise from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. I had taken several photos for the article and Michael Dingemans, the publisher, was on the island just before high season taking more photos. As always, his wife, Carina, turned it into a beautiful layout. The magazine is distributed free throughout the island and contains a useful island map as the centerfold.

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! They just came out with the newer version and it's barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Maybe it is the best thing to take to the beach? Here's a NY TImes review of the Kindle. Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well.

 

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:
Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pizza Galley
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Mario's Cookbook   The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is still available online. 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.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.

As we just had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant, we thought we would mention Sol Luna Inn. MSN Travel picked them as one of a dozen low-priced beach resorts in the world. It also got a very nice review in a recent NY Times feature on the island. The photo on the right shows the view over to Orient. The rooms climb the hill above one of the best and lovliest restaurants on the island and are conveniently located between all the great lunch dining on Orient Beach and all the great dinners in Grand Case.
  View from Sol e Luna