Another New Years, another visit to St. Martin FWI, things could certainly be worse! I am lucky to have been going down to St Martin for more than a decade now, and more specifically to the village of Grand Case, the self proclaimed Culinary Capital of the Caribbean!
Whether that is truly the case may best be left to others to decide, but the 3 dozen or so restaurants lining the main drag through town sure do present a compelling argument. And if you get bored dining in Grand Case, there is a whole island to explore, half French and half Dutch, though the Dutch side could more accurately be called tres Americaine! Today I begin with a look at a few restaurants in Grand Case, but stay tuned for my next two installments with additional wining and dining tips.
What to expect: St. MaartenWhile my report focuses on the French side of St. Martin, this unique island has a split personality. The Dutch half of the island, known as St. Maarten, offers visitors a different view on island life. From the duty free linens and cheese available in Philipsburg, the Capitol of the Dutch side, to the great casinos and night clubs of the large resorts, it offers much to do for the adventuresome traveler.
The Lolos of Grand Case are four predominantly outdoor grilling restaurants that specialize in ribs and chicken, simply and inexpensively prepared.
Stay and play on the beach in Grand CaseGrand Case Beach Club
The Grand Case Beach Club really is not much of a club. Though it is a wonderfully located set of five buildings that house well appointed, beach front apartments. There is a tennis court, watersports outlet and modest gym on premise, but the grand allure here are the beaches, one on each side of the property.
Le Ti’ Provencal
Le Ti’ Provencal is among my favorites restaurants in Grand Case. With it’s narrow, easy to miss doorway, and hand written sandwich board at the northern end of the Boulevard de Grand Case, it’s easy to walk right by Le Ti' Provencal, but to do so would be a grave mistake.
Before we dive too deeply into the food and wine that makes St. Martin a particularly special Caribbean destination let me just quickly mention the Grand Case Beach Club. Full disclosure: I am an owner of one unit here in what is essentially a Condotel. The Grand Case Beach Club really is not much of a club. What it is, is a wonderfully located set of five buildings that house apartments (studios to 3-bedrooms). There is a tennis court, watersports outlet and modest gym but the grand allure here are the beaches, one on each side of the property. The Petit Plage that sweeps up to the north with a sliver of sand and modest waves that come in across the sandy-bottomed bay and the Grand Plage that extends from the Grand Case Beach Club to the south.
It is along this expanse of beach that Grand Case, the village, sits. The bay here is broad and affords the waterfront restaurants that line the main drag wonderful views and refreshing breezes that drift through the open dining rooms perched above the shore. Some of the restaurants along this side of Grand Case may rely a little too much on the view and position, and not enough on the cuisine but for the sake of these emails I will focus on the restaurants deserving of attention.
Most of the restaurants in Grand Case share in the grand traditions of French Cuisine, and many of them do it quite well. There is always a nod here and there to incorporating local ingredients and traditional flavorings, but for the most part Grand Case is flush with fine French restaurants. Two bay front restaurants are worth recommending for their skillful blending of regional French cuisine and local influences.
Among my favorites must be Le Ti’ Provencal. With it’s narrow, easy to miss doorway, and hand written sandwich board at the northern end of the Grand Case strip, it’s easy to walk by Ti Provencal, but to do so would be a grave mistake. The food here is fabulous, but more important to me, it’s one of the rare local restaurants that relies heavily on local seafood, prepared with one eye on the classic dishes of Provence.
Now it may strike many as strange, seeing as St. Martin is an island smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean sea, but most of the restaurants in the area rely either upon seafood flown in from France (more on that in a future email) or easy to maintain staple such as Tuna, Mahi-Mahi, and Salmon, not Le Ti’ Provencal. Here one finds the wonders of Drum, Trunk Fish, and my favorite: Trigger fish.
My dinner at Le Ti’ Provencal began with a wonderful Chickpea pancake, or more like a tart, flavored with sautéed shrimp and basil that was light, yet flavorful with a delicate texture. I followed up with the aforementioned Triggerfish, prepared ala Meunier, for two. The same preparation is also available for one but using only the tail of the triggerfish, and in that case one missed all the juicy bits that people fancifully call Cheeks these days!
In any event the food here is flawlessly prepared and delicious. With dinner I enjoyed a well priced bottle of Chablis and noticed deals on the menu, Like Tignanello for 110 Euro and 2007 Cru Chablis from Fevre for about half that. This little bit of Provence in Grand Case is a must visit restaurant in my book, and one of the greatest places to enjoy the million dollar views of Grand Case.
If Provencal cuisine is not your thing, then head on over to Le Soleil, Grand Case’s bastion of Alsatian Cuisine. You might think of this as a bit odd but the food, simply prepared, works! The spaetzle with Munster, is a rich dish, and can be a bit heavy but it is a great adult Mac and cheese. It’s served as an entrée but in reality it makes a fantastic side dish, and kids will love it!
In a nod to their roots, le Soleil offers a variety of fish dishes paired with sauerkraut. In fact one can get a very satisfying Coucroute here simply by asking. The sausage and smoked meats are a bit out of place, but if one is looking for such a thing, and in fact it was exactly what I was craving, it’s a deft preparation.
In addition to dishes that have roots firmly in Alsace, Le Soleil also offers some of the creative cuisine endemic to the Caribbean. The crispy Mahi-Mahi for example, is a flaky, sweet slice of Mahi wrapped in crisp, flaky pastry. It was a perfect example of this genre, and the view over the water only made it better. I stopped in to Le Soleil on my first evening in Grand Case so I passed on wine (Zut alors!) this evening but a fine glass of Alsatian Riesling, naturally available, would have been the perfect addition to this meal.
Alsatian, Provencal, there’s a theme here and it runs rampant through Grand Case. This is after all the French West Indies, so it’s not surprising that French food dominates the scene, with some wonderful exceptions (which will also have to wait for a future email). Sometimes one needs to take a break from all that Frenchness, and the prices that come along with it.
The antidote? Lolos! Ok, so you have to be prepared here. The Lolos of Grand Case are four predominantly outdoor grilling restaurants that specialize in ribs and chicken, simply and inexpensively prepared. Sides run to the ordinary with mac’n cheese, rice and beans, overcooked frozen corn on the cob and iceberg lettuce green salad being typical, but sometimes that’s just the ticket.
In most years’ talk of the Town, the Lolo closest to town tends to be the best of the bunch, grilling up smoky, moist chicken and garlicky ribs, though this year there was barely a suggestion of garlic! Everything is well prepared, if slowly delivered, and this is the rare exception in Grand Case: a place where one can eat reasonably well for under $10.
In all honesty, I stop into the Lolos once or twice on each trip to Grand Case. I love this type of simply grilled food and it offers an easy bit of variety on more than one level. And besides, it’s right across the street from the ice cream stand in Grand Case.
There’s another bargain, well almost. While the ice cream, really more of gelato than Ice Cream, is not inexpensive it’s another way to stretch one’s dollars in Grand Case. Forgo the fancy dessert in a restaurant and enjoy a cup or cone of Mango, Lime, or Pistachio Gelato as you stroll back to your room. With all the money you save you can go wine shopping! Which we’ll do in the next installment of Caribbean Culinary Adventures!
Find out more about St. Martin in part two of this series: Finding Wine on St. Martin