Restaurants & Bars

St. Martin Report


Restaurants & Bars

St. Martin Report

lintsao | Apr 28, 2003 02:36 PM

We went on our third trip to Saint Martin this month, and having looked through prior posts before leaving have a few things to add.

Formerly the Dutch side used Antillean guilders and the French side the French franc but the Yankee dollar was a sort of common currency. Now the French side uses euros, and while you can still use US dollars the exchange rate you are given varies wildly. Some restaurants give you 1 for 1, in others it’s the going bank rate (about 1.07€ to $US 1 while we were there), in some the check is a nasty surprise if you don’t have euros.

Durreche, for example, is a simple open air place where you can get a decent tuna steak with cracked pepper sauce or gamba brochette for about 8€, which is quite reasonable. However a check of 19€ was rendered as $US29. I do recommend the place, especially if you’re just in from the airport and want a simple lunch, just go to the ATM first.

Le Saint Germain was a former favorite of ours as it was moderately priced and had interesting, tasty food. One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was a crêpe filled with celery purée, folded up into a pouch and crisped around the top, surrounded by scallops in saffron cream sauce. Now the restaurant has been renovated, expanded and fancied up. Black is as charming a host as ever (the guy with the bandana if you go) but what was nice about the restaurant has been sort of diluted. The drinks were weaker, the prices are higher and the food good but not as memorable, although the hot apple caramel tart is still wonderful.

There is a juice stand on the waterfront by the market that is great. I’ve heard people I know in New York talking about going home to Jamaica to visit and always trying to bring mangoes back with them. They never get them past customs but they always try because they’re so different from anything you can get stateside – a cup of mango juice from this stand will show you why. They have a grinder for sugarcane and have carrot & cane juice, and a long list of fruit and vegetable juices. Regarding the mangoes, in the late afternoon women set up in the alleys around Marigot selling produce. Buy their mangoes! They’ll help you choose one ripe for today, one for tomorrow.

Note to Yanks and Brits: if anyone approaches and asks your nationality, say you are Canadian. There are squadrons of young guys out hawking timeshares and for some reason Canadians are excluded. It’s an easy way to get rid of them.

We ate at Chez Martine because they had a 'market menu' with a main course of wahoo, a fish we encounter at the north end of its range on Cape Hatteras, but one you don’t see that often on menus anywhere. This dinner was one of the most strangely conceived and weirdly executed meals I have ever eaten (I felt sorry for that wahoo). It would take a long time to describe, just suffice to say we made the mistake of going there, you don’t have to.

Prior posters seem to like Talk of the Town for chicken & ribs, but compared with NYC it was not that great Caribbean food for more money than at home. Half a christophine stuffed with bland breadcrumbs was $5 -- now, I can do *way* better than that in Brooklyn.

Calmos Cafe was recommended by someone local, otherwise I would have been put off by their cartoony signboard. It’s very informal with low-slung lounge chairs in the sand and food on disposable plates. I had grilled red snapper with basmati rice and salad which was very good, but we went back for lunch and found the grilled chicken leg and ribs okay but not great. It is a great place to have a drink though. They play an eclectic selection of music which would normally be a little Windham Hilly for my taste, but settled deep in a lounge chair watching the waves on vacation zone-out mode it was really quite lovely.

La Playa beach cafe has live music (usually Reggae or Latin) on Sunday nights with a dinner where everyone is served the same thing at a set time (7:00 I think). When we were there it was grilled ouassou, a large river crayfish. We discovered that we don’t like ouassoux – they’re kind of gamey tasting -- however if you like them I would say it was very well prepared, very fresh with the shells crisped on the grill. This was another place though where a 15€ per person dinner turned into a check for two of US$50.

Once you’ve taken the ferry there, there are two places to eat: one a chicken and rib grill place, and a French beach cafe called Karibuni where we ate. Very good fresh seafood: I got a generous portion of mahi mahi with a very zippy creole sauce (chili peppers in vinaigrette -- scotch bonnets if I’m not mistaken) with salad and rice for 14€. It’s a charming place with tiny birds zipping through the air under the thatch roof and friendly surfer dude waiters.

Friar’s Bay Beach Cafe was our favorite from the past and remained our favorite this trip. If you go to Friar’s Bay it’s the last place on the beach. Their food is always so delicious, there is a creative sensibility at work that cares about food. Some of the things we had there were a crisp potato pancake placed on a round of camembert (so that the camembert softened up from the hot pancake and melded with the potato when you cut into it) piled with green salad and bacon, and surrounded with sautéed mushrooms; a pork terrine with cornichons & pickled onions; a green salad with lots of artichoke hearts and thick strips of a very rich intense ham with a pile of roasted sweet red peppers, and a salad of dressed greens with tiny boiled potatoes and olives with a pile fresh anchovy fillets marinated in vinaigrette on top. It’s about 12-13€ for main courses, and the salads are huge, enough to share. There’s always interesting music playing (like old Janice Joplin being played by waiters way too young to remember her alive) and, as their menu says, “ton voisin n’y va jamais”.

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