Welcome to St. Martin

The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean

 


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. Maarten

While 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.
Map Related Imagery

The view from the pool.

Dinner at Le Ti’ Provencal. Try the Trigger Fish.

The Grand 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.

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The Lolos of Grand Case are four predominantly outdoor grilling restaurants that specialize in ribs and chicken, simply and inexpensively prepared.

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The perfect compliment to this island's native delicacy. Serves 12, but come hungry.

Stay and play on the beach in Grand Case

Grand 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


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Comments

  • The Culinary capital I thought were the Bahamas......Graycliff, the only five star.......Dune of Jean George Vongerichten.....Nobu...Matsushita....Bobby Flay at Atlantis........a Grand Award wine cellar at Graycliff....!!! well different opinion

    Jan 08, 2010 at 10:28 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,621

    Could certainly be Enrico. As I mentioned it's the self proclaimed Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. Different opinions are a beautiful thing though. Congratulations though. I've only heard fantastic things about Graycliff. I can still remember the Wine Spectator feature about the restaurant some 20 years ago but have yet to visit. Thanks for your comment.

    Jan 08, 2010 at 11:10 AM


  • Grand Case, no doubt, is without peers in the Caribbean. I've been there five time in the past three years--not just for the food and wine, but for the whole "flavor" of St. Martin/St. Maarten.

    At last count, I think there are over 300 restaurants on the island--only 37 square miles; and over 100 of them are four and five star-rated.

    Two important notes I didn't find in the article:
    1. At Grand Case, the ecclectic variety of restaurants is amazing. There's everything from the finest, high-end French Bistros to French-American Beach Bars (with the best hamburgers and fries ever!) to (my personal favorite for "getting it to go" and having lunch on the beach) a little barbeque place called, "Talk of the Town" that has--get this--the BEST GRILLED BARBEQUE RIBS I've ever had, for only $4.00 U.S.!

    Less than a three minute drive from Grand Case, the wine distributor for the entire island has his warehouse and cellars. He doesn't advertise, but you can have an amazing lunch there (lunch only), prepared by the island's premier chefs, and paired, flawlessly, with a wine with each course. If you love wines--and I assume you do or you wouldn't be reading Snooth--this place has it ALL!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 11:26 AM


  • Sorry! I didn't see page 4 of the article about Lolo's--and "Talk of the Town". By the way, that's $4.00 U.S. for a SLAB of ribs. Sides range from $1 to $2. Yumm! (When you tire of all the wonderful French Cuisine!)

    Jan 08, 2010 at 11:42 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,621

    Hey WineBibber. Sorry I didn't make it clear but there are 2 more emails to come!

    You can count on seeing more of your favorites soon, including talk of the town and Bacchus!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 11:50 AM


  • Snooth User: blueview
    127481 1

    Just returned again from Christmas week in St. Maartens...and absolutely LOVE GRAND CASE! We had an incredible meal at at Le Tastevin. Although we prefer the French side..........we also have 2 absolute favorites on the Dutch side......La Gondola & Temptations! Two finer meals you will never beat. For Jewelry...........we've dealt with Jay at Shiva's in Phillipsburg for a number of years and discovered if you don't know jewelry you must know your jeweler....and he's always given us an unparralled level of service and quality.

    Jan 08, 2010 at 11:59 AM


  • Thanks, Gregory! I look forward to reading more! Great writing and pics!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 12:54 PM


  • Snooth User: hayesdt2
    165629 1

    WineBibber - Do you have contact info for the Wine Distributor? I am going to down there in March and that sounds wonderful.

    Jan 08, 2010 at 1:01 PM


  • i agree the restaurants in Grand Case are exceptional, especially Le Tastevin. I have not been to St. Marteen/St. Martin for several years, however there used to be an outstanding Italian restaurant in Phillipsburg named Da Livio. It had some of the best Osso Bucco on the planet. I was wondering if it is still there.

    Jan 08, 2010 at 2:18 PM


  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 1,748

    Well done GREGORY.....WHAT NEXT?

    HERE IS AN OPEN INVITATION TO MY OWN PRIVATE ISLAND FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT .
    I REALLY MEAN IT!
    SEE YOU THERE SOON!
    I will follow-up !

    Jan 08, 2010 at 2:23 PM


  • Snooth User: LaSeud
    124515 6

    Went there for a 40th bday celebration. Stayed at Grand Case Beach Club and ate at all the restaurants reviewed. A wonderful experience!! However, we went in June, very hot. I imagine a New Years there would be just perfect!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 3:27 PM


  • Snooth User: nlink
    347017 1

    I don't totally disagree but would encourage you to try Saint Barts, which is close by. Nelson

    Jan 08, 2010 at 6:28 PM


  • What other rec's for lodging are there--in addition to the GC Beach Club? I'm ready!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 7:39 PM


  • enrico-sounds like you are getting the New York capital of the Caribbean mixed up with these special places that are not copies of hyped NY establishments.
    take a chance and try something new-u may like it!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 7:58 PM


  • Snooth User: SusieY
    219722 4

    I agree that Graycliff is the best thing "in the Caribbean," although technically it's in the Atlantic Ocean. I've eaten there many times and have always been wowed. Our waiter even put my feet on a pillow under the table, once. Mmmmm. Grand Case, is the king of the "real" Caribbean. Is the Fish Pot still there? How about Mary's Boon at the end of the runway on the Dutch side? Great local art, too. Love that island!!!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 8:04 PM


  • Snooth User: OliviaW
    293458 4

    millerowski - I love staying at Le Meredien in St. Martin- private cove/beach "over the mountain"- gorgeous. Ah, I wish I could go back right now. I love St. Martin/Sint Maarten!

    Jan 08, 2010 at 9:37 PM


  • Snooth User: indysjake
    349404 1

    I highly recommend Allemande in Orient Beach - loved it! Big rooms and a kitchenette with a little plaza (and grocery store) nearby. And an easy drive to Grand Case...the pictures made me want to go back!

    Jan 09, 2010 at 12:18 AM


  • Millerowski, we travel to SXM every year and love to stay at Princess Heights in Oyster Pond near the Dutch/French border. Beautiful, high end boutique hotel (but nicely priced). In Grand Case, Il Nettuno is reliable for good Italian. In the Oyster Pond area, try Big Fish (obviously, sea food), La Fregate for casual French and Mama Pizza for innovative pizza with an awesome view of the harbor. Our all-time favorite is Mario's in Sandy Ground - wine saavy staff and excellent food.

    Jan 10, 2010 at 10:44 PM


  • Snooth User: Oyster
    352003 1

    We all have our favorites and mine is lescapade in Grand Case of course. I had great escargot and the works. Plan to open your wallet. I haven't been there for a couple years - hope the place is still there! The art was very nice as well!

    Jan 12, 2010 at 9:37 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,621

    Nice to see St. Martin is so popular among Snooth members. Any chance of getting any of you to join me in Late May for a few night, several dinners, and many bottles of wine?

    Jan 13, 2010 at 7:18 PM


  • I have been to St. Martin twice, stayed in Grand Case Beach Club and have loved the dining. I am wondering about buying a condo at the Grand Case Beach Club as well and am wondering if you wouldn't mind chatting via phone or through email?

    Thanks,
    Tracey

    Jan 17, 2010 at 7:30 PM


  • Traveling to St Martin, Alamanda, Orient Bay for the first time end of February. I'm excited to try what a lot of my friends call The "real" culinary destination of the Caribbean. I wasn't too impressed with the Bahamas. Yes, Dune is amazing, but so is Perry St. and it's 10 blocks from my apartment. Sure, I would prefer the Caribbean backdrop to the West Side highway but I hope to discover something new in St Martin. Gregory, I hope to try all of your recommendations. I hope to spend a few quiet nights on my terrace with a vintage bottle of Bordeaux and a smelly meat cheese plate.

    Jan 20, 2010 at 4:01 PM


  • New to Snooth and love it! I'm looking at St. Maarten as a honeymoon destination. My fiance and I love to enjoy great food and wine. Would you agree that it's a good place for a honeymoon?

    Jan 21, 2010 at 11:27 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,621

    Welcome Cristi! I think it can be a great place for a honeymoon! There are many romantic places to stay, beach to laze around on, and restaurants to enjoy.

    Jan 21, 2010 at 11:45 AM


  • Snooth User: philcib
    207025 10

    Any St. Maarten/St. Martin vistors absolutely must take a day trip to Pinel Island.

    Feb 14, 2010 at 1:14 AM


  • Grand Case Beach Club has been our favorite place in the Caribbean for years. Steve Wright and his staff are excellent hosts. They are our family away from home. Our two favorite restaurants are Spicy, L'Estaminet, with Bistrot Caraibes not far behind. As for Lolo's, The Sky's The Limit is the best. Garlic Shrimp, chicken or rib "food" dinner is un-beatable in price and flavor. Will be returning again to GCC in October

    Feb 14, 2010 at 7:18 AM


  • Snooth User: rmcunningham
    Hand of Snooth
    336868 552

    We took the advice of the article and went to Le Soleil in January and had a great experience and some excellent food. The Alsatian tarts were fantastic and I am still thinking about them. The people we also very friendly.

    Feb 21, 2010 at 10:54 AM


  • Snooth User: DineSXM
    420562 5

    @hayesdt2: The wine importer is "La Cave De Bacchus" in Hope Estate. That's across from L'Esperance airport, a five minute drive from Grand Case village. Phone: +590 590 87 15 70

    About being 'self proclaimed' - I don't know of any other culinary teams that rake up so many medals, year after year, at the Taste of the Caribbean competition. St. Maarten and St. Martin are all about diversity and variety of choice: from a $4 rack of ribs to the finest international cuisine.

    You can find out more on our island restaurants on our Facebook fan page or at DineSXM.com

    -Norbert

    Mar 08, 2010 at 12:50 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,621

    Heading back down for a long weekend in20 days. Can't wait. Not sure what I can "research" this time, but I'll try something.

    Mar 11, 2010 at 9:23 AM


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