Sunday is not normally a day to do shopping in the Caribbean, but we read that the Dutch side has most stores open until noonish. Since there were a couple of things we wanted to grab we loaded up the truck and headed to Philipsburg. Most of the shirts I like are by this company called Rima and there is an outlet store here on the island. Talk about a shoppers paradise! Who knew Rima made soooo many things?
Virtually everything that is for sale in all the little shops on the island is stocked in the Rima store. From fridge magnets, to hats, scarfs, beach wraps, wind chimes, masks, sculptures, tin cars, geckos and shell jewelry, you will find it here.
But of course, I couldn’t find THE shirt that I am looking for, so we headed downtown (OVER two blocks away!) Because there were a couple of cruise ships in the harbor, everything was open. The Philipsburg boardwalk is tons of fun. People watching is top of the list. They rent Segways so you can boogie up and down the boardwalk in a hurry. It’s great fun to see cruisers in little yellow hardhats maneuvering in and out of the crowds!
We ate lunch in the Blue Bitch Bar – I kid you not… and it wasn’t called that because a couple of waitresses were having a disagreement! It’s simple lunch fare, but pretty tasty. We watched a woman get a massage, right on the beach. The masseuse worked her over pretty good, for a darn long time!
I managed to find four or five nice shirts, but still not the one I really want – so that will have to wait for another shopping trip.
The weather was really too windy for snorkeling so we decided to try St. Maarten’s answer to Aruba’s Baby Beach. It’s a nicely sheltered cove, with water that is very shallow for a considerable distance. Being a Sunday, it was packed with locals. We did manage to see a few unique sites, including a large puffer fish, and a couple of stingrays. We also saw our first barracuda here.
We decided to try the Westin for dinner tonight, since we wanted to spend a few bucks in the casino. Naturally, if there is a casino on the island, Pam needs to try it out! Anyway, we tried the restaurant called “Aura”, billed as a “Fine Dining Establishment.” The restaurant itself is tucked away down a large marble hallway, with 16 foot ceilings. You enter the dining room by passing rows of wine bottles neatly arranged in a glass display case. There are large wooden beams suspended from the ceiling via wires, giving an aura of coziness, with a sense of expansiveness. The seats were nicely covered in a deep padded fabric. However, they dragged across the marble floors with a terrible screech. They need to get some padding under the legs of those chairs!
Pam and I ordered a “Shrimp and Lump Crabmeat Salad” ($14) to start and it was more than excellent. Six large prawns were accompanied by a generous portion of crab, served over a few lettuce leaves. It was served with a lemon wedge and a rather ordinary seafood cocktail sauce, much like you’d get from a bottle. The shrimps and crab were divine however. Succulent and flavorful, I’d order it again.
For the main, I had the Double Cut Pork Chop, with Oaxacan Mole ($42), asparagus with hollandaise sauce ($7) and Broccoli with almonds ($5). When dinner arrived, it was on 5 plates. That’s right, fine dining to the Westin is kinda like a buffet! The pork chop arrived sitting completely alone on the plate; the mole sauce (with no discernible chocolate in it) was in a small gravy boat, the asparagus was in its own tray, the broccoli on another, and the Hollandaise sauce was in a small square bowl. The Hollandaise was a rather congealed mass, not a luxurious sauce. The pork chop was very tasty indeed, although I prefer mine slightly more cooked. The mole sauce, while interesting, was not what I expect a mole sauce to be. I will need to consult with Jorge and Marlene, but I was under the impression that all seven mole sauces had chocolate in them! I realize I sound kinda bitchy, but it bothers me that my dinner alone was $62.10 dollars (a 15% “service charge” is added to the bill) before tip, to eat a meal I must plate myself. Let’s face it, part of the charm of fine dining is admiring the wonderful plating the CHEF DOES!
Another gripe I have, is that when I dine in a Fine Dining Establishment, I do not expect dinner to arrive, and for the waiter to announce to the table that he has a pork chop, and who ordered it! In a fine dining establishment, the waiter is able to take an order from four individuals and then remember to whom to it should be delivered!
For dessert Pam and I split a rather meager two tablespoons (NOT scoops) of ice cream served with four ginger cookies. Not recommended. The coffee, while flavorful, was tepid, an unfortunate constant the island over.
Overall, I’d give the Westin Aura about a 4 out of 10. I simply can’t recommend a Fine Dining Establishment with such poor service, poor plating, and an enforced service charge.
Dinner for four, including tip was $400.
We had little success at the casino – although Maggie took a few bucks from them. The casino was not very busy, maybe 10 people – and we were able to play whatever we liked. We spent most of the time at the Zorro game, and got quite a few bonuses, but never enough to make us walk away a winner!