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The Civilized Explorer

Dining on St. Bart -- Wonderful, Expensive Food

St. Barth used to be the in place for the jet set, but those people have moved on, leaving behind jet set prices. Castelets, for example, is a resort hotel high up on Morne Lurin, a vantage point that gives it perhaps the best view of any hotel on the island. The high season rates for 1991 ranged from US$155 to US$540 per day, single or double occupancy. If you can't afford to stay, at least go there for the view. Its restaurant has the best service on the island, although at $150 for dinner for two, it's also one of the more expensive. The food is excellent, the service is warm and friendly, and the view superb. By all means, try it.

On a par with Castelets, François Plantation is located in Colombier. This hotel in French colonial style has a view only slightly less spectacular than Castelets', and a pool that is marvelous and usually deserted. 1991 in- season rates ranged from $250 to $280 per day double occupancy, depending on whether the room is ocean view or garden view. Even the garden view is wonderful. The restaurant at François Plantation vies for the reputation as best on the island. Our recollection of the food is overridden by the very wooden service. The price for two was $153.

Hotel Manapany in Anse de Cayes has two restaurants, Ballahou and Ouanalao. Ouanalao is the more formal of the two, and has some of the best desserts on the island. Highly recommended, but dinner for two cost $150.

As you may have noticed, eating out in St. Barth is an adventure in paying. The most extreme example of tourist- driven prices is Taïwana, owned by Monsieur Nemegyei and located at Anse des Flamands. M. Nemegyei does not advertise; his hotel does business by word of mouth only, and it is quite successful. M. Nemegyei does not accept credit cards, even at his restaurant. Cash or traveler's check only, although he will allow people who are surprised to find they can't charge their meal to eat and mail him a check later. "Most do," he says. We had lunch, starting with two piña coladas. One of us had a tomato salad -- vine- ripe, peeled, and sliced tomatoes with basil and a very good vinaigrette dressing. One of us had a "Salade de Guadeloupe," which was shredded carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, cucumbers, papaya, and star fruit. Both salads were fresh and quite good. A Coca Cola was consumed. One slice of chocolate cake was ordered. We were warned, "It's just chocolate cake." There was no icing. The cake was wonderful, even with no icing; moist, melt- in- your- mouth delicious. The meal came to US$92. Was it worth $92? No. But M. Nemegyei runs a first class operation, and he charges for it. If you wish to stay at Taïwana, you will be assured of quality lodging, quality service, and quality food. You may make reservations by calling M. Nemegyei at (590) 27 65 01.

Sunset over the ocean For more nearly normal prices, take in a sunset from L'Hibiscus in Gustavia. That's where this picture was taken. Sitting on the deck drinking while the sun goes down is incredibly beautiful, incredibly relaxing. There is usually a pianist playing light jazz to accompany the sunset. If you can't get a spot at L'Hibiscus, try next door at L'Ananas. The food at both places is good, but the real treat is the view. If you eat at either restaurant, expect to pay about $80 for two.

You might want to have sunset drinks at L'Hibiscus and then go around the quay to the Wall House. This restaurant was purchased in 1990 by Girard Pagan and so has not had the publicity of many of the other restaurants. Beat the crowd. Chef Herve Chauvet, a native of France, turns out delicious entrees and delectable deserts. Dinner for two with drinks and desert cost US$115. The Wall House gets its name from its location next to the old fort which was blown up and burned when gunpowder was accidentally ignited. If the old woman is there selling her vegetables, you might buy a few for your meals at the villa.

You can also get reasonable meals at Le Flamboyant (try the Langouste de Flamboyant) and the Hostellerie des Trois Forces, both in Grand Cul de Sac and both with wonderful views of the bay. Meals at both restaurants will cost in the neighborhood of $100 per couple.

For some down home creole cooking, try La Langouste in Gustavia. The Creole Plate has stuffed squash, stuffed crab, codfish fritters, and blood sausage. The Shrimp Creole is six huge prawns served beside rice. It is a small family restaurant with good food and no pretense. Dinner for two with bottled water and two glasses of wine was $68, very reasonable for St. Barth.

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