Itinerary
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Sunday
Feb212010

Yummy...

Location: Grand Case, St. Martin

As I’ve mentioned, one of the primary reasons we selected St. Martin, and specifically Grand Case, was food. This was I’m sure not a surprise to anyone who knows me: I’m usually planning where I’ll be getting dinner before I’m done with lunch. I like to say I’m “food-dependent,” because that’s a lot kinder than what many others have called it over the years. But I digress.

 

Grand Case is living up to its billing as the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. It started out life as a modest fishing village, on the far opposite side of the island from crazy Philipsburg, with only one main road going through the town, and only about half a mile long. It takes us 10 minutes to walk it. The beaches are pristine and shockingly empty day after day as most tourists choose to stay in more developed areas. There are minimal “watersports” on offer, though there is great snorkeling here, just walk in off the smooth white sand. So, in general it still is a modest town, far, far removed from the resorts and cruise ships... except that there are estimated to be ~ 50 restaurants.

We’ve only been here a week, so there will be many more posts on the great eating, but here is my first attempt to convey the trouble my weight watchers lifestyle is in. We have sampled several of Grand Case’s finest, though we have by no means conquered the boulevard. We are committed to sacrificing ourselves on the altar of butter, creme fraiche and BBQ sauce because, if we don’t, who will?

In order to do the food justice, however, it’s important to first start, similar to the Golden Globe awards, by categorizing. Instead of dramatic film versus comedy (/musical, how ridiculous is that designation?), we must start with the segmentation of Lolos, Casual and Gourmet.

Lolos

Hello-lo tasty grilled goodness!

I’m not entirely sure what Lolos stands for, but it must in some way mean “local,” because that’s the best place to start. You will find Lolos all over the island - the level of sophistication is akin to a Taco Truck, but instead with a 50-gallon drum cut in half to create a barbeque - but the best of them are four (or five, hard to tell), all grouped together in the middle of Grand Case. You can smell them from half a block away, the cloud of barbeque aroma billowing in all directions, and you find yourself, willingly or not, like Toucan Sam, following his nose (it always knows).

We have been to the Lolos twice now, and let me promise you, we will be going back frequently. Let’s start with the fact that a beer is $1.50. Need I say more? Still not convinced? OK, the ribs (travers de porc) practically fall off the bone when you pick them up. They are the greasiest, most succulent morsels ever. When you first see the bottle of “Kraft” barbeque sauce in the basked on the table, you’re worried, until you realize that the bottle is ancient, and was clearly repurposed from its original generic contents long ago to instead hold the keys to the kingdom of tastiness.

The shrimp (crevettes creole) are fresh from the fisherman you just saw pull in from his morning trip, and perfectly light and juicy, in a tasty creole sauce that as far as I can tell involves butter, garlic, onions and local crack. For some reason this dish is always served with potato salad, which is unexpectedly, crazy good, with peas and carrots (though, the secret to this dish might have been in the vat of “extra heavy” mayonnaise I glimpsed in the kitchen).

Each of these dishes was roughly $10. Everything there is ridiculously cheap... with one notable exception. The other night our dinner companion attempted to order the grilled lobster, and was told the last one remaining was so large it was $80, and no they don’t do half-lobsters. Given the rest of the lobsters we had seen them grilling - basted with gallons of butter dripping into the fire - had already been eaten, we plan to go early one night soon to find out what all the fuss is about.

We’ve since learned that, of the seemingly similar Lolos clustered together, the locals only eat at “Sky’s the Limit.” We will be trying this one very soon and will report back.

Casual

In between the outdoor Lolos and the high-end, pricey gourmet restaurants, complete with $500 bottles of wine, you can still find a good, solid, casual meal. Our favorite so far has been at Calmos Cafe.

We stumbled on Calmos Cafe by accident - you can’t see if from the street, only from the beach - as we headed down the dark alleyway one night intent on a rum punch before turning in for the evening. What luck. You get to cafe and find a full open-air bar, complete with picnic tables and, wait for it, beach chairs perfectly situated at the edge of where the waves gently nip at your toes. That night we left after just one drink at the bar (during which the bar started spitting on me - turns out that’s a “service” by which it douses you in DDT, a service I have since come to appreciate), but we vowed to return the next night when we saw the cheeseburgers float by on a tray.

True to our word, we returned the next night which, as it happened, was Mardi Gras. Grand Case being French, there was in fact a Mardi Gras parade of some kind going down the main road. Parking was out of control - but we didn’t care, because it only took us 5 minutes to walk down from our hotel, perfectly situated out of the hubbub, but around the corner.

We went a little early, around 6:30, and lucky we did since we took the last table for two - a table of two beach chairs next to the water. Our burgers were simple and delicious, as anticipated. While I will say that service here is typically French, meaning they don’t rush you (the kind way of putting it), our waiter did perfectly time his delivery of my rum punches. And, the true highlight of the evening came when, being typically French, he subtly kicked out a group of ruffian mardi gras geezers (yes, they’re following me), who had attempted to take over the calm, quiet ambiance of the beach, by simply saying “Ze beach is closed,” with an inexplicable French shrug of the shoulders that brooked no argument, despite the fact of the other packed tables, still receiving drinks.

Gourmet

Admittedly, we haven’t gone crazy yet with the many, many high-end gourmet restaurants here. We’re trying to pace ourselves, and not overwhelm our stomachs with rich food. However, last night we made our first foray. We went to Spiga, the “creative italian restaurant” around the corner from the hotel.

Spiga is already one of our favorites. Though our last-minute planning meant we had a an early-bird 6pm table, it just didn’t matter. The caprese salad, with three different stacks of tomato with smooth as silk mozzarella (one with avocado, one with olives, one with grilled peppers), caused us to cease all conversation and focus solely on insuring an impartial allocation of the gustatory booty.

After a week of practically becoming a shrimpetarian (they are so fresh and plentiful here), I was craving a little red meat, so we both went in for the Filet Mignon. It was topped with crumbled blue cheese, and paired with fresh, grilled asparagus and a side of potatoes gratin like only the French truly know how to make. More grilled peppers as garnish, and some sauce drizzled lightly atop everything, completed the dish. Not to mention we paired it with a surprisingly reasonable and refreshing bottle of Barbera d’Alba. Dinner was, in a word: succulent.

Tomorrow we have dinner plans with a couple we met who used to live here, who were kind enough to entertain us with a fabulously simple lunch at their house on the beach on Friday. French cheese and pate; sauteed shrimp salad; fresh sliced mango. It was delicious, simple and decadent all at the same time, especially when you consider that everything had been picked up at the local market which is this town’s equivalent of a 7-eleven.

So, stay tuned... more restaurant reviews to come!

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