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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Saint Bart's Day 2: More Rosé and a Little François Villard

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 24, 2008 8:51am ET

By day two in Saint Bart's, Nancy and I both had the bright red foreheads that announced our "just arrived" status. We’d also developed a contest (she’s almost as competitive as I am): who could zap the most bugs.

Our room came equipped with a mini-tennis racquet device, whose wire membrane becomes electrified when you press and hold the button on the handle. Waving it through the air, it delivers a resounding "Zap!" whenever it swipes a bug, sending it to a crispy demise. Nancy invariably gets the biggest zaps, sometimes with an eye-catching yellow-blue spark. She follows each one with a cackling "Ha!"

Whenever I wave the device though, I whiff. At one point, I’ve managed to only trap a mosquito—it was actually crawling around within the thin wiring held amidst the frame. I hit the button a few times to make sure the zapper was on. Finally the mosquito slowly, soundlessly shriveled. I succeeded in delivering slow insect torture, while at the same time failing to receive a confidence-building crackling zap noise.

“Don’t worry honey,” said Nancy. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

Last night we capped off the day with a dinner at The Wall House, located on the far side of the harbor in Gustavia. Upon entering, a large tank teems with impressive looking lobsters and an inviting rôti burns blue flame in the open kitchen. We spent 30 minutes in a give and take, each trying to persuade the other which main course for two to have—the côte de bœuf, châteaubriand, spit-roasted saddle rack of lamb, tuna steak and more are all up for debate, but none could secure a majority of votes.

After finishing a glass of pastis, we finally settled on the whole-roasted duck, in a five spice, pineapple and honey sauce. The waiter seemed genuinely pleased when he heard our choice, and an order for a bottle of 2005 St.-Joseph Mairlant from François Villard (he’s got more wine in Saint Bart's than he does in the U.S. market it seems!) elicits a more-than-standard approval from our server. With its bright minerality and racy black cherry fruit, we are now settled in for a comfortable evening.

The Wall House sits just on the road along the harbor, and despite the occasional car zipping by, it’s a peaceful spot. The restaurant delivers a low hum of conversation, as most people seem to be involved in the food rather than the scene, which is understandable: The food is exceptional. Our duck comes crackling on a cutting board, oozing aromas, before being deftly carved tableside. A flick of the wrist and the legs are off. Before we know it, superthin slices of breast meat are laid out on two plates and drizzled with the rich, dark brown-colored fruit and spice sauce. The legs and thighs go back to the rotisserie for more cooking, before being brought back on a bed of fresh greens, all perfectly timed to allow us to savor the succulent and perfectly medium-rare breast.

There’s an overladen dessert trolley, as well as small vials of vanilla- and coffee-flavored rum, for those who want to compete the indulgence. We partake. With its inviting atmosphere and rôti-dominated cuisine, the Wall House is one of those restaurants you could visit more than once during a short visit to the island. But Nancy and I made a promise to try something different each and every meal this trip, so, á la prochaine.

My parental clock kicks back in the following morning though, and I bolt awake like there’s a fire in the villa at 7:12 a.m. Nancy is in full drool/REM sleep though, so I resign myself to working through the last few chapters of La Vie En Rosé while I wait for breakfast to arrive. I admit to sneaking onto my laptop as well for some e-mails.

Following breakfast, we walk down to the beach near the hotel. The recent hurricanes have washed out the more accessible path, so we have to pick our way across a rocky stretch of beach to get to our palapa. I watch a pair of surfers fail miserably to catch any of the seemingly solid waves that crash onto the beach. It’s only 11:15 and I’m already pestering Nancy about what we’re going to do for lunch.

If you want to get away from 27-euro salads along the popular beaches in St. Bart's, find The Hideaway.

Eventually she relents, and we head into St.-Jean to try out The Hideaway, which bills itself as offering "corked wine, warm beer, lousy food and a view of the car park." It’s the perfect anti-Nikki Beach (one of those 27-euro salad places that everyone tells you you have to try). The restaurant is tucked behind a small, non-descript parking lot in a cramped mini-shopping area of St.-Jean. But The Hideaway’s self-deprecating marketing doesn’t do it justice. Ceiling fans struggle to move the warm air, while the tables are topped with plastic tablecloths. Rail-thin waiters ferry plates of food to pot-bellied, overly-tan locals. A salad of warm chêvre is enough for two people—three two-inch thick slices of baguette topped high with melted chêvre sit atop a mound of lightly dressed lettuce, tomatoes and lardons. The thin-crust pizzas are the highlight here. We go for the house specialty, mushrooms and Toulouse sausage. A bottle of 2007 Blanche de Sargant Cotes de Provence Rosé is almost impossibly pale in color, and goes down effortlessly, with light strawberry and floral notes that don’t get in the way of the hearty food. The ubiquitous small vial of vanilla rum is brought at the end of the meal, and in true French fashion we’re allowed to linger, unrushed as the lunch crowd slowly dwindles, and we’re the last ones left.

On the way back we scout out the beach at Les Salines, just steps from where we had lunch the day before at Le Grain de Sel, as well as a few more restaurants that we decide we’re likely to try. I like the Les Salines area—it’s very quiet, as opposed to the buzz of the main drag that runs through St.-Jean or the cramped shopping mall that is Gustavia. It’s a short scramble up some jagged, sand covered rocks to get to the beach, but the minor schlep is more than worth it. The waves are rough enough to challenge good swimmers, the water is azure and a brisk breeze blows constantly, hiding the effects of the ever-present sun.

After mentally planning where to plant our umbrella the next day, we head back to our room for a siesta. On the way we pass a small yellow house on the narrow, winding road back to Le Toiny. A blackboard out front is offering wine tastings. Deciding to check it out turns out to be the best discovery so far. Absolutely Wine is as big a breadbox, with a white gravel floor that competes for space with the floor to ceiling boxes stacked in the middle and around the walls. Bottles from Bordeaux (Haut-Brion), Champagne (’95 Cristal), Burgundy (Hubert Lignier), Provence and more abound, along with a cooler that has a selection of a few whites and a half-dozen rosés at the ready. I make a beeline for the cooler to grab a bottle of the 2006 Domaines Bunan Bandol Rosé Moulin des Costes and then Nancy taps me on the shoulder. In the center of the store is a display rack of various peppercorns—Madagascar, Malabar, Sri Lanka and more. Just what I needed for the Pougeot moulin de café I recently received from overseas! With its small wooden box and iron crank handle/grinding mechanism, this beautiful contraption doubles as the world’s greatest peppermill. Obviously, fate has brought me here.

In addition, the shop offers jars of foie gras, from small to large to grandiose, along with links of dried chorizo and more. For 10 euros, you can get a tasting of four glasses of wine while sitting at the two-seat bar, where a leg of cured ham sits, begging to be sliced. It’s not long before Nancy has to drag me out with a promise of "we can come back tomorrow" ... I plan on just that, calculating how big a jar of foie gras I can get to last me for a couple of hours on the beach.

For dinner, it was back to the laidback Salines area. Le Tamarin lies within an enclosed garden, where palm trees stand amidst a casual assortment of chairs and couches. Walking across a wooden plank path, you turn left to the bar and tapas area, or right to the dining area. Here, on a raised, dark wooden deck, with amber uplit columns and an Indonesian motif, the former chef of Le Gaïac has set up his own restaurant.

The menu isn’t long, and only a few specials are listed on the blackboard. Nancy and I decide on dueling tuna appetizers—sashimi for her, tartare for me. Both portions are very large, with the sashimi drizzled with sesame oil, the tartare in nearly half-inch cubes and enlivened with a light, spicy, mustard-based emulsion. The tilt here is Asian-influenced; Nancy's grilled mahi-mahi comes with a side of fried rice and grilled octopus. I go standard filet mignon with béarnaise (beating the old Mel Brooks "Don’t get saucy with me, Béarnaise!" line into the ground throughout dinner). Half expecting to be let down by the beef on a Caribbean island, I’m instead knocked over by how good it is. It seems to part on its own, ahead of the knife blade. It’s buttery smooth and a radiant pink, perfectly cooked and unadorned with any overt salt or other seasoning. With a bottle of the 2005 Côte-Rôtie Le Gallet Blanc from François Villard (man, this guy has got some importer working for him down here), it’s one of those meals that leaves you perfectly satisfied. I still find room for a Montecristo No. 2 though.

Lingering over the cigar and a glass of 1987 Laubade Armagnac, the sky is teeming with stars and the late-night bar crowd begins to file in at the tapas side of the restaurant. I propose to Nancy that it’s never to early to think about where to eat the next day.

Where to Eat:
Wall House

La Pointe
Gustavia
Telephone: 05-90-27-71-83
www.wallhouserestaurant.com


The Hideaway
St.-Jean
Telephone: 05-90-27-63-62


Le Tamarin
Route de Saline
Telephone: 05-90-27-72-12


Wine Shops:
Absolutely Wine
Grand Fond
Telephone: 05-90-52-20-96

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