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Trip report. June 6-24. #199455
07/07/2019 04:10 PM
07/07/2019 04:10 PM
Joined: May 2008
Posts: 424
Central Coast, CA
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A bit long and late, but I'm still on island time...Forgive any typos--Word to notepad conversions aren't my forte.
------------------------------------------------------

As our 14 year old cat, Stormy,now has both small cell and large cell lymphoma, my wife, Shirley, wasn't in any mood to travel as her(the cat's) longivity was in question, but once Stormy went into remission thanks to a very knowledgeable Internist, looking and feeling as good as ever, my wife thought we had a good window for travel, and when she mentioned she'd like to go back to Grand Case Beach Club for our 43rd anniversary, well, I jumped at the chance, made all the plans for a 10 night stay, and so off we went on 3 weeks notice. Incidentally, Stormy was doing so well that we extended our trip by 7 nights.

We departed SFO Thursday 6/6 on the red-eye, arriving SXM around 12:30 pm Friday. But, arriving at the parking lot at SFO, the temperature was 58 and there was a brisk wind blowing off the bay, reminding me of Mark Twain's apocryphal comment about his coldest winter being a summer in San Francisco. I zipped on my leggings and took out my windbreaker to keep warm. We got a pleasant surprise on the PHL-SXM leg as the front cabin had lie flat seats. I think this is now Shirley's new normal for comfortable travel and I will now be looking for 752-International configurations, which, unfortunately are always subject to change.

Compared to pre Irma days, entering SXM is a hassle, though not necessarily more time consuming overall, just more crowded. We took a bus to C&I and had to wait in line about 20 minutes. No paperwork to fill out--we were just asked which flight we arrived on and where we were staying. Moving on to bag claim, our bags were on the carrousel, so no wait there as was the case in the past. Picked up our el-cheapo car at Best Deal, and off to GCBC.

GCBC and Grand Case are the overriding factors that make us come back to the island every year, primarily GCBC. We were so happy to see all the staff again, including some new faces, but not as happy as they were to see us. Shirley immediately called for the resident cats, but we didn't see them until after the construction workers left for the day. We were happy to see Picasso, Pablo, Lunes, and Larimar, and saddened to learn that Ginger never came back even though she survived Irma. Picasso won't let us touch her, as the last time we touched her, she was unceremoniously dumped in a cage, taken to the vet, and rendered thereafter undesirable to the local Toms on the prowl. But, she got to stay (she was beginning to become a personna non grata) and has now become a fixture.

GCBC is coming along nicely, especially when viewed against the progress the rest of Grand Case is experiencing. Buildings 7 & 8 are still being redone, and are planned to be open for "the season". I really didn't catch much construction noise so no problem there. The townhomes, buildings 100 & 200 are finished and with a more modern interior. While I much prefer a beach motif, I think I can live with the modernization. They are still working on the boardwalk area and rebuidling some of the lounging areas that were destroyed. Obviously, it will be some time before the landscaping grows back to old form--I especially miss the mature bougainvillea espaliers and the tall palms on the peninsula, but I can cope.

Grand Case itself is a mixed bag. The restoration along the coastline is minimal, and I'm told that's because of red tape and new building requirements. Looking at night from GCBC across the bay, there just aren't that many lights on as many of the structures are still in ruins, especially the stretch from GCBC to the airport road. Still, in town there are some oceanside restaurants open and plenty on the other side of the street. We managed to eat well and often in town.

Two of my favorite pastimes are watching sunsets and rainbows. Sunsets were mostly a bust, as the sun disappeared before reaching the horizon, so the elusive green flash remains for another day. I imagine it was the Sahara dust that prevented the normal oranges, yellow and reds that characterize the sunsets on the island. Really didn't have too much rain, maybe one good rainfall predawn, and a few showers at other times, but never saw a rainbow. Probably requires a revisit to make up for this.

It seems on each trip there's always some aspect of the local traffic that leaves an impression on me. In the past it's been how everyone seems to be in a great rush to be late to where ever they are going. And that it must be illegal for a motorbike to follow the same car for more than 30 seconds. This trip I noticed that if you didn't make a left turn quickly enough, as from the main road turning left into Grand Case, some impatient idiot behind you would pass to make his left turn ahead of you. Good thing Shirley saw the guy. This happened twice.

Activities:
For all of our intentions of visiting other beaches, we have finally admitted that we aren't going anywhere other than the 2 beaches in front of our hotel. The only exception to this is when we also stay at Mary's boon, and plop ourselves in from of the hotel for the duration. We actually had a sandy beach on the Grand Case Beach side, which is only the 2nd or 3rd time in some 13ish visits.

I developed a nasty case of sciatica our 3rd day there, so that kind of altered plans as I could barley walk 100-200 feet without needing to take the pressure off my legs. We couldn't go to Phillipsburg, so Vince at Royal Jewelers has to wait on buying his new car. Never did have a Guavaberry Colada, but substituted Ti Punches instead. Also, I couldn't walk the aisles of the newly(at long last) opened Super U in Hope Estate. It made walking into town for dinner impossible, but sometimes we parked in the public lot by the salt press and walked in with 2 or 3 rest stops, or parked in the no parking zone in front of Bistrot Caraibes while we ate there with their blessing and watchful eye, or the Catholic Church and prayed.

Despite my injury, we did manage to hit the Marigot market 3 Saturdays and 1 Wednesday. Not needing another Secret Spot T-shirt, I looked around and managed to buy another 4. I guess I just won't buy more next trip. She does take custom orders, in that I wanted a particular design but on a different color. Unfortunately, she did not have the color in my size as they don't restock until the high season, so maybe I do have to stop here next trip. We managed to eat breakfast at the food vendors, having such delicacies as salt fish patties, boudin, mauby and, Dutch Coffee, not to mention Ti Punch. We also managed to stop by Le Gout Du Vin (sp?) as they generally have wine tastings Saturday mornings, and bought some wine to tide us over.



Food:
Ah, food. This is what, IMO, sets St. Martin apart when compared to other islands. Other islands have more beautiful beaches, more diverse topography, or are more unspoiled, but for me, the food puts St. Martin on top for extended stays. Before every trip, I make a detailed restaurant plan, more so to prioritize the restaurants, hit all the places we want, and make sure we don't eat a large lunch if we're having a nice dinner, because once we get on the island , everything is subject to island time. Turns out, we're really only able to eat out 1 meal a day, so leftovers and cheese, smoked fish, pates, and a baguette make up many of our dinners. Clearly, we'd we able to eat 2 meals out a day if we were to dispense with breakfast, but one of the finest pleasures of being in France is the simple joy of croissants, a baguette and butter for breakfast.

We had our 43rd Anniversary dinner at L' Auberge Gourmand, as we'd also done for our 40th. The specials that night were an appetizer, a duet of smoked salmon and tuna tartar. The salmon was excellent. Their dessert was a caramel mille feuille with other things that escape my memory, also excellent. And, as usual, we also had the filet in a blue cheese cream sauce, which was great as usual. We also stopped by about 2 weeks later just to have some appetizers, but no smoked salmon.

Another standard meal is at Bistrot Caraibes. This time I wanted to have some lobster, but their smallest was 2+ kilos, so we just went with our typical array of appetizers--mussels, smoked salmon, lobster bisque, beef Carpaccio, and for a change, the molten chocolate dessert instead of their always excellent crème brulee. And, we also stopped here later in the trip for more of the same. On the one hand, people may think you can eat cheaply just eating appetizers, but we managed to spend $125 our first trip, but then we load the dishes with wine, fizzy water, and decaf cappuccinos, so it adds up. But, worth every penny. Oh, and the server brought each appetizer separately, which is the best way to dine. Even these limited menus take 2- 2 1/2 hours to enjoy.

Sadly, I think we had our last meal at Piazza Pascal as they are moving to Arlington, Tx later this year. I'm pretty sure that's where the grandkids are. Actually Donna is there now in nursing. Since we go back to the Dallas area on occasion, I was hoping Pascal might have a restaurant open, but I guess he's going for the easier life of rehabbing houses to convert to rental units. I had my usual calamari and gnocchi in a bleu cheese sauce. Seemed a little different with the new guy in the kitchen, but we're talking the difference between A+ and an A or A-. I get so spoiled on this island.

Normally our first meal is at Villa Royal, but they aren't open. The restaurant is being redone, and substantial progress seems to have been made, but I have no idea if Villa Royal is still going to be there. A great loss if they don't reopen. So we went to the Lolos. I prefer Scoobies but they don't serve accras, which were at the top of my list, and instead went across the aisle to Le Coin Des Amis. Some of the best conch stew I've had in ages, but maybe just because I haven't had any since 2016. Walked the street to see who was open, and then had ice cream cones at G's Snacks. I was very happy after this meal.

We had lunch 3 times at Le Taitu. Shirley had the chicken with bleu cheese sauce 3 times, but I tried the veal stew, chicken and bleu cheese and something my memory can't recall. I was really tempted to have a burger, but I try not to order American dishes when I know I can order something I can't gets back in the States. This is probably the best spot to have a French lunch on the island at a reasonable price--14.85 Euros for drink, plat that includes a starch and salad, and coffee.

Another place that has risen to the top of our lunch destinations is Ital's Freedom Fighters on Bush Road just outside of Phillipsburg. It's basically farm (on island) to table vegan, but with tremendous flavor.In the past we would come here to offset some of the excesses of Grand Case dining, but now we come, also because of this, but primarily because it's good eats. Plus one can fill up here, and still have a full meal in Grand Case for dinner without having to take a doggie bag.

Champagne Bistro is now owned by Sylvain, owner of Select Wine Cellar. We had lunch here twice, and ordered the Pinot Blanc in advance to accompany the meals. We really wanted the bouchot mussels, but they are more or less out of season, and scrawny, so we had to "settle" for the PEIs. Another keeper.

And then there's Yvette's, IMO, the finest dining experience on the island on a price/performance basis. We ate here twice, once for lunch and once for dinner, the menu being the same for both. No matter how hungry I am, I have to have their substantial order of accras, even though it may affect my main course. Shirley always orders conch and dumplings, but they were out the second time, so I suggested the pan fried snapper filet in a creole sauce. She liked it, but it was not conch and dumplings. Me, I had the pan fried snapper and later the curried goat, and a coulpa Ti Punches. A fine meal for sure. I saw Felix, the Chef and Yvette's husband go outside, so went out to talk to him, and compliment him on the meals. I also mentioned the alterations I had to make to get my Johnny Cakes just right, still not quite up to his standards, and he was intrigued by the adjustments I had to make. He was also especially pleased that I had the cook book.

Hercules in Cul de Sac is also a mandatory stop. I think I surprised the new waitress when I ordered the Haitian dish, griot, my usual, and then further surprised her when I asked if they were serving picklez and banan peze. Yep, they had them and I was in heaven. They also make their accras with tania, a local ground provision, which makes them heavier, but tasty nonetheless. And, they have a cat there but feeding him is forbidden.

We hadn't been to Tropicana in ages, but I wanted to revisit this place, since I keep hearing wonderful comments on it. Since we were going to have Saturday lunch, that precluded us from going to Marigot early to get a bowl of bull foot soup, and other local treats. Yep, lunch was excellent, having ordered mussels and some fancy sauced fish concoction. Tropicana has now risen to a must eat.

We also ate at Bistro Nu, a place we've eaten at numerous times, and now under its fourth(at least) management. We ate there last year in May, and weren't impressed(cold food), but then this was right after Irma, so I make allowances. The new owner's menu has a lot of organ meat, and while I'm willing to try anything, I prefer to have a taste first before springing for a full meal. The rest of the offerings weren't anything special. Shirley was hoping for Beef Bourgogne and I was hoping for duck confit--dishes we'd had in the past. Still the carpaccio and tartare were decent, but nothing to write home about.

New places:
We really wanted to eat at Nice SXM for dinner, but final days' revised meal planning and analysis only allowed a lunch opening. I'd seen duck confit on the dinner menu and that was my goal but sadly, not to be. Still, we had a great lunch plate of 4 smoked fish--tuna, wahoo, marlin, and salmon, and a plate of beef carpaccio, with an appetizer of 3 different dips on toast points. This is also a keeper.

I'd also seen that a new restaurant, La Frite au Vent, specializing in Belgian cuisine, was open and serving bouchot mussels on Saturday nights. My earlier facebook interactions indicated that bouchots were out of season, and probably would not be served. They were, but probably shouldn't have been. They were real scrawny, which is typical of the time of year, and not better than PEIs, unlike normal. Still, I like the place as it's outdoors with covers to protect against rain, and seems to be a great place to have a light dinner, but the rest of the menu doesn't excite me--chicken and meatballs. Still, it's on my radar, if for nothing else than a light, inexpensive dinner.


Sunset Cafe apparently opened on a moment's notice, and what they did is impressive, I think basically moving in May 31 and hitting the ground running on June 1. We had our standard breakfast 2 times of smoked salmon, which is just as good as ever, but we needed cream cheese to go with the toast points. IMO, the dinner menu is a bit limited, but I expect that to change with time. And, while I believe Bistrot Caraibes serves the tastiest mussels, Sunset offers the best "mussel experience", especially at lunch, due to the view. The bar staff is super friendly and seemed to have me pegged for my favorite drink--Ti Punch. Nothing finer than floating on my noodle in the water at Petite Plage holding my Ti punch in one hand and holding on tight with the other in the 4 inch seas, while slowly kicking my legs to relieve the pain of sciatica.

Changing our return trip was fairly effortless. The staff at GCBC really waved their "magic wand" to get the rooms we wanted, giving us extra time for check out, and AA really came through on my request for wheelchair service. That sure made the return trip a lot less painful that it could have been.

So, our trip comes to a close. While the French side of the island still has quite a way to go to recovery, GCBC, and to a lesser extent, Grand Case are on their way to recovery. We really didn't get to experience the Dutch side much, but will probably make that up next trip. Incidentally, we still want to buy at GCBC, and the storm and its aftermath really haven't changed our minds, we're just waiting for the right unit to come up for sale. An excellent trip, despite my ailment.
.

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Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199457
07/07/2019 04:48 PM
07/07/2019 04:48 PM
Joined: Jul 2015
Posts: 796
Cobourg Ontario Canada
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Sounds fantastic! Thanks for great report!! January not too far off!

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199464
07/07/2019 05:10 PM
07/07/2019 05:10 PM
Joined: Aug 2000
Posts: 69,720
Central Florida!
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Great report! I need to sit down and re-read it tomorrow, to take it all in!! dine


Carol Hill
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199474
07/07/2019 07:13 PM
07/07/2019 07:13 PM
Joined: Apr 2001
Posts: 12,446
Brookfield, CT.
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GCBC is one of my all-time island favorites. Sounds like a perfect trip. TY for sharing though I think I gained weight just reading your food experiences.


Respectfully,

pat



"Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat
them."
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199476
07/07/2019 07:28 PM
07/07/2019 07:28 PM
Joined: Jul 2001
Posts: 6,978
St Louis, MO
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Thanks for taking time to post a report. Enjoyed the read.


Next SXM visit - October 25-Nov8, 2019, Jan23-Feb11, 2020
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199478
07/07/2019 07:43 PM
07/07/2019 07:43 PM
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CT
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Excellent report!


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If life hands you a lemon, just squeeze it on a lobster!
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: pony600] #199479
07/07/2019 07:53 PM
07/07/2019 07:53 PM
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Posts: 424
Central Coast, CA
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cruzer Offline OP
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Pony, we missed you and your stallion.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199480
07/07/2019 07:57 PM
07/07/2019 07:57 PM
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Carib_Ian Online content
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Thank you for that great report. Unfortunately on our last trip we didn’t get to Grand Case. Next time we will!

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199483
07/07/2019 08:48 PM
07/07/2019 08:48 PM
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Long island
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Thank you for this amazingly detailed report!! You really covered it all so beautifully! I actually made notes for our February trip.....

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199490
07/07/2019 10:55 PM
07/07/2019 10:55 PM
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Posts: 153
Washington State
Todd_Melinda_K Online content
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Thank you for your report! Hercules is definitely on our list. Where is Champagne Bistro?

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: Todd_Melinda_K] #199491
07/08/2019 02:41 AM
07/08/2019 02:41 AM
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Portland, OR
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Originally Posted by Todd_Melinda_K
Thank you for your report! Hercules is definitely on our list. Where is Champagne Bistro?


In Cole Bay, across the street from where Harley Davidson was pre-Irma. It's in the corner of a strip mall, right on the corner.


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Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199492
07/08/2019 02:43 AM
07/08/2019 02:43 AM
Joined: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,660
Portland, OR
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Thanks for the nice, detailed report. I'm glad you had a good experience at Sunset Cafe. I had lunch there a couple of weeks ago and was not impressed. Appreciate your taking the time to write.


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Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199499
07/08/2019 06:35 AM
07/08/2019 06:35 AM
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Beautifully written and constructed. You are diverse foodies I see, music to my heart. Was at L’Auberge probably for the 4th time last night on our trip and also passed by the GCBC. Can you purchase there and have it rented out by management?
Talking about Rainbows, looking at a good one now and took some pics and hope to post another time. So about 4 weeks ago had some great mussels at Tropicana. They were huge and last week they were really scrawny and small and by your comments they are probably definitely now out of season?
Anyway, thx very much for a super descriptive trip report.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199539
07/08/2019 12:32 PM
07/08/2019 12:32 PM
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Posts: 1,095
CT
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Originally Posted by cruzer
Pony, we missed you and your stallion.


grin
Perhaps you can be talked in to returning in October....


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If life hands you a lemon, just squeeze it on a lobster!
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199556
07/08/2019 04:15 PM
07/08/2019 04:15 PM
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Loved all the stops you made for nourishment. But, no stops in nearby Orient Village?

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: bran] #199617
07/09/2019 03:58 PM
07/09/2019 03:58 PM
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Bran, yes you can purchase at GCBC, and essentially, you have to rent it out, as they have a rental pool for when owners aren't there, which is most of the time. As it is a pool all like kind units share equally in the net rental income. As to mussels, when bouchots are in season, they are devine--Bistrot Caraibbes makes them best, IMO.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: biglar] #199618
07/09/2019 04:02 PM
07/09/2019 04:02 PM
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Biglar, our only attempt to stop near Orient was an aborted attempt to eat at Rancho Del Sol. We don't go to Orient very often, but I have no idea why not. Maybe we should give it a try as it's not all that far from Grand Case and they do offer French cuisine.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: pony600] #199619
07/09/2019 04:05 PM
07/09/2019 04:05 PM
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Central Coast, CA
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Hmm, return in October, you say, Pony? Who knows, they way Stormy is progressing that is a possibility, although perhaps a distant one.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199637
07/09/2019 07:21 PM
07/09/2019 07:21 PM
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Thanks for sharing your trip with us. It truly sounds great in spite of your back problem.



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Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199962
07/14/2019 03:30 PM
07/14/2019 03:30 PM
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great report. love the food breakdown. very jealous. love me some 'ti punch. thanks for the rundown.


"if you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do"
Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #199976
07/14/2019 05:28 PM
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Originally Posted by cruzer
Biglar, our only attempt to stop near Orient was an aborted attempt to eat at Rancho Del Sol. We don't go to Orient very often, but I have no idea why not. Maybe we should give it a try as it's not all that far from Grand Case and they do offer French cuisine.


I'm the same camp......will give a report soon.

Re: Trip report. June 6-24. [Re: cruzer] #200022
07/15/2019 09:44 AM
07/15/2019 09:44 AM
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Rhode Island
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Finally got around to reading your great report. We too love GCBC and miss some favorites in Grand Case. Hope the red tape can be cut soon and things get back to normal if possible.

You're one of the first people I've read a report on Hercules. We drove by but I couldn't convince hubby to stop. Instead we went to Le Taitu, always a great choice.


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