Sunday, June 3, 2012

St. Martin Mini-Vacation -- the Overview with Dinner Specifics

Jeff and I have been married for 16 years (end of June) and have never been on a vacation. First off, I have to differentiate between a "trip" and a "vacation."  We have been on several "trips" to far away places. We have gone to the Galapagos Islands, Bonaire, St. Croix, Akumal Mexico, Papua New Guinea, and Hawaii. We have gone on other "trips/adventures" near Washington State -- Hurst Island British Columbia, the San Juan Islands and numerous backpacking/camping/hiking trips  (Lake Ozette, Olympic National Forest, Oregon Coast ...) . All of our "trips" are primarily dive related with maybe some add on adventure stuff. Before I met Jeff I had gone to Fiji, Cozumel, Honduras (Guanaja), Australia (Brisbane and Tangalooma), and ice diving in Eastern Washington. Australia was more a vacation but the others were all diving. Anyway, I digress...when you live on a tropical island and go diving every week, caving or surfing or kayaking during the week and on weekends and can be on the beach or in the jungle in 20 minutes it makes no sense to go do that somewhere else (unless it is exotic like in the South Pacific or something). Why pay to do the activities we do every other day? What we wanted to do was go do something we don't have here in Puerto Rico -- we wanted to go have excellent food! After researching and reading and hunting for ticket prices etc I found a Jet Blue Getaway to Saint. Martin for what seemed like a reasonable price. You would think island hopping would be cheap and easy but it isn't - to go 100 miles south you need to go up to Florida so you can fly back down over PR to get to a lot of the islands. There are, however, some airlines that island hop - Liat, Air Sunshine, Cape Air, and Jet Blue are a few.

For $362 each we left San Juan for 3 nights, 4 days on Saint. Martin. That price was for airfare, condo, car, and departure taxes! This was a food vacation! I had done a lot of research and narrowed down the 200 or so restaurants to the 3 we could fit in. I had breakfast spots selected and the trip was all about eating eating and more eating! I am very picky about food - I don't generally like meat, starches (except real bread which I absolutely LOVE), organs, carcasses (bones and sinew and things). I can say we did not have any meal that was less than excellent! I am going to review the 3 we went to with some picky comments just so you can determine what is important to you if you decide to go there. I repeat though....any restaurant on St. Martin will be miles above anything in PR and will rival anything in the states!

We arrived Monday around 5 (an hour delay because of the Florida tropical storm). We got off the plane in an uncrowded airport that was sparkling clean and walked straight to the car rental where there was NO LINE, 2 minutes later the shuttle took us to the car and another 5 and we were off! Collision is covered with our credit card and the rental place covers liability (nice surprise). We checked into the condo which was Le Flambouyant, got our key, showered, and headed to Grand Case for dinner. The free GPS had a "restaurant" button and gave directions to a lot of the best ones. (that is how to do tourism)

Grand Case is the big food area on the French side. We parked and walked up to a bunch of small, open-to-the-air restaurants that had 20 at most tables.We did not eat on the water side of the street since the menus on the other side were what we wanted. The owner generally came up to explain the specials. If I am going to pay for food I expect good service, better food than I can make and different food than I can make. I also don't want to have to wear a coat (like PR places). We went first to L'Auberge. The restaurant was a few little open rooms painted a nice yellow and open to the street. We went immediately in (it is the low season there) and were seated. Water was poured, bread was delivered (hmmm real bread and butter), drinks and we ordered. The little amuse bouche (tongue teaser) was brought out. I had a salad with a phyllo purse filled with oozing goat cheese and crunchy nuts. I think Jeff had snails (escargot). I am not a fan of chewy things but I did try one of his and am a total convert!
Then it was on to the entrees. I had Monkfish stuffed with lobster and Jeff had "blackened" tuna. I had never had Monkfish before and it was a flaky but dense fish in a sort of roulette that had a very rich and delightful sauce over it. Jeff's tuna had the blackened flavor profile but wasn't what he expected - he has had better. The sides were amazing...some of them. One of the best ones was a cauliflower disc that was creamy, there were stuffed tomatoes, mushroom stuffed pepper and the highlight was some kind of carrot concoction that was fluffy and creamy as well. The only criticisms I have are that the portions are way too big and Jeff's dish and mine both had the same sides. That made it a little less thought out in my mind, and more like Bonefish restaurant or something. With food this good I would prefer the sides to be specific ones that match up with the main protein. Yes, we both had ocean things but still it would be better to have fewer and more specific sides. The photos do not show the excellent plating...just quick shots in low light... The salad with endive and peeled tomato and a little purse of warm goodness!

After all that we were too stuffed to eat dessert! This was only night one! Service was excellent. The portions I thought were too big. This was the most expensive restaurant and least favorite (nothing to complain about though - just not our best food or service). While waiting for the check some shots of raspberry/rum were presented.

Night 2 we went to La Villa. This was a nice, open restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere. The owner (Christophe) was exceptionally warm and the service was the best of the three we went to. On night one there was a scallop dish I wanted and this night it wasn't on the menu. The owner said they had scallops and I could tell them how I wanted them and they'd make them for me! This restaurant had a one-to-one dollar to euro which is beneficial. The dinner was a fixed price which was also very nice - one appetizer, main and dessert for one price. Two flutes of champagne started us off (part of the price and unexpected) and a chilled parsley soup amuse bouche.I tried the mahi mahi tartar since I hadn't ever had mahi that way before. I prefer tuna tartar since the mahi mahi was a little bland. I enjoyed the wasabi mousse on top but it wasn't strong enough. The pink peppercorns were a nice taste and visual and the balsamic reduction on the plate edges were really nice but there wasn't quite enough of it. The star of this dish though was the seaweed! I don't know what they did to it but it had just enough sesame and maybe it was fried? Yummy.
For the main dish I had seared scallops that were perfectly cooked. There were some very nice sides including beet chips and a sweet potato puree. There was an onion preparation, spinach, endive (can live without it) and a broccoli spear that was slightly misplaced. This was a very good meal. If I had a suggestion it would be to pair the scallops with a small mound of the seaweed I had in the appetizer! The color and flavor would have been an excellent match.

Jeff had Chilean Sea Bass which was perfectly prepared and not like any sea bass he'd had before. He had the same sides, which as I said before...I think the sides should be specific to the meal. Both of us had a cheese crunch/frito thing on top which was a nice textural element (I watch too many cooking shows, huh?)

For dessert Jeff ate most of his before I could get the camera out! I don't remember the name, but they were little eclair/custardy discs full of ice cream with chocolate and nuts etc. I had a tiramisu that didn't look like other tiramisus I've had but the flavors were amazing!!!

Night three ended up being our favorite food. I had hoped to get out of Grand Case and go toward Orient Bay to Ti Bouchon. We were very early and they weren't open so we went back to Grand Case. After looking at menus (we were going to eat on the water side of the street) I was settled on a crispy duck but Jeff didn't see anything that excited him. We looked back across the street and at the confusing menu of Le Cottage. I didn't like the way the menu sign looked (not as intimate as the other two restaurants) and it was kind of confusing. The owner came out and after explaining how it worked we gave it a try and it turned out to be our favorite food! For $39 you could choose 3 appetizers and 5 main dishes in "tasting" sizes with a dessert. There were many things to choose from. I couldn't eat that much stuff let alone decide on 8 things so for $23 I had 5 "tasting size" mains. I had scrambled egg with creme fraiche and stuff, bacon on a little toast, tuna carpaccio, anchovies and something or other, a shrimp egg roll thing and something else. Jeff had a whole smorgasbord of things - duck con fit with mashed potatoes, snail lollipop, anchovy thing, regular snail, some kind of tuna with wasabi and sesame,  and other stuff we can't remember.  The portions were perfect, the assortment was awesome, I was satisfied and the service was really good! The favorites for me were the duck con fit, snail lollipop, anchovy thing and that egg! The scrambled egg was put back in its little shell and served with a little spoon - I like that sort of thing! For dessert with split Jeff's warm chocolate souffle which was amazing! Then, I had coffee and they brought out some dark chocolate! How perfect is that. This was our least expensive and best meal of the trip!

Le Cottage - best food (perfect for my style of eating)
La Villa - absolutely the best service and excellent food
L/Auberge - nothing to complain about...excellent food and service

So there you have it! Ya gotta go!


Cassie said...

The food sounds amazing! Did they speak French or English with you? What did you think of the island overall? So happy you guys finally took a "vacation" (we are the same way--always with the trips with a purpose instead of just relaxing! :-)

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

Cassie - they spoke French to each other and things were in euros. They could spot us and spoke English everywhere. The island was clean, not overrun with sad animals, no furry heaps on the roads and very organized. Definately caters to tourists so lots of jewelry, food, clothes shopping. Food was amazing. Visit in the off season - even then there were lots of cars.

Fran and Steve said...

Great post. We have been unable to find any decent restaurants in Humacao. Went to the the "best" French restaurant in Palmas Del Mar and had horrible food. The seafood was clearly from Sam's Club and everything was way too salty. Spent about $120 on the crap. Can't wait for the boat to be in better shape so we can start visiting other islands.

Jeff and Katrina Kruse said...

Fran - When your boat is up and ready put this on your list! It is also possible to go to Anguilla (another great food place) in a short hop from St. Martin...