It's embarrassing to admit, but my vegetarian upbringing has left me squeamish about chicken. I grew up surrounded by them - my mother kept a whole henhouse for the eggs - but I remain more or less innocent about how to prepare or cook one, or even ingest one publicly without getting fat and bone fragments all over the tablecloth. What I had growing up instead of chicken dinner was a steady supply of vegetarian literature, replete with horrifying factory farm images, which have conditioned me to treat chicken - famously an innoccous, almost babyfoody meat - as though it were fugu. In other words, it's not something I'll purchase from Franprix, or from any of the innumerable anonymous streetside rotisseries where the carcasses are skewered so tightly as to no longer resemble birds, but rather a row of violated goosefleshy donuts.
So nowadays I'm susceptible to bouts of bird-envy, whenever a host unveils a well-cooked fowl. There's something irreplaceably heartwarming and communal about everyone gathering around a table dismantling the same creature.
One of these days - perhaps when I reside somewhere with an oven - I'll teach myself how to cook birds. Until then, my frequent shortcut solution is Chez Plume, an absolute godsend of a take-out counter-slash-lunch spot that opened last winter on rue des Martyrs. The restaurant specialises in all kinds of fowl - several chickens from the Landes, guinea hens, ducks - all "élevé en liberté," and available roasted by the whole or the half at very reasonable prices. It's possible to reserve birds in advance, a good idea at peak times. And when you arrive to pick up dinner, available also is a well-curated selection of pretty serious mid-range natural wines. It's almost like owner Alexandre Girault overheard some sedentary rue des Martyrs types complaining about the difficulty of accessing ethical meats and natural wines on a daily basis and he decided to make it absurdly easy for everyone.
I have kind of a love-hate relationship with the rue des Martyrs. Mostly hate. It's a pleasant street, well-located, and it contains a number of fine terraces. Daintiness abounds. I just can't help but feel the street is bursting with the culinary equivalents of flashing lights and joybuzzers, idiotic distractions and cheap pleasures. Smoked salmon, puff pastries, overpriced questionable Corsican products, and so on. On this street there are two shops specialising in wild smoked salmon - the fossil fuel of appetisers - and not a single good caviste. I can't help but take this as an indicator of the depth, or lack thereof, of the neighborhood's interest in cuisine. You could call it : food and wine as accessories.
So I felt as much astonishment as relief when I chanced across Chez Plume one sunday afternoon while searching for lunch to bring to the Native Companion, who lives nearby. For one thing, the place was open - it's open seven days a week.
And, if the first paragraph of this article wasn't enough to disqualify me from chicken criticism, I'll now undermine my case somewhat further by mentioning that I was basically sold on Chez Plume's product as soon as I saw the wine selection.
Georges Descombes, his stepson Damien Coquelet (how appropriate!), Puzelat, Château Sainte Anne, and so on - all these wines made for a delicious juxtaposition with the joyously egalitarian cuisine on offer. The implication seems to be: this is food and wine for every day, because it can and should be this good.
In my experience, chefs and restaurateurs routinely overlook the wine component of their establishments because they themselves are not greatly interested in the taste of wine. I'd argue that flavor-matching and what-have-you are largely beside the point. The point is that a thoughtful wine selection reflects well on everything else an establishment offers. In Chez Plume's case, it's just a further bonus that the taut, dark-cherry flavors of good cru Beaujolais cleave to those of roast chicken like sunlight on stained glass.
Happily, the half-chickens that the NC and I have been devouring at least weekly since discovering Chez Plume are reliably impressive in themselves. (The NC has more experience with this, and she agrees.)
They're succulent, savoury, never too dry, and thankfully bereft of the marked butaney taste I've perceived in the chicken at some of Paris' other celebrated rotisseries - I'm thinking specifically of Astier-offshoot Jeanne A in the 11ème, and the 5ème's La Rotisserie du Beaujolais.
If I have one complaint about Chez Plume, it's that now and then they run out of extra jus, in the absence of which it is difficult to perform the reheating required to give guests the impression I myself cooked the bird.
6, rue des Martyrs
Métro: Notre Dame de Lorette
Tel: 01 48 78 65 43
An April 2012 roundup of good addresses for chicken in Paris @ L'ExpressStyles
A brief note on Chez Plume @ Deco-Interieure.com
Bits and bobs on Beaujolais:
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Café de la Bascule, Fleurie
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Karim Vionnet, Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Chez Agnès et Jean Foillard, Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: L'Atelier du Cuisinier, Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Le Relais des Caveaux, Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Le Coq à Juliénas, Juliénas
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Beaujolais Communiqué
Adoring Guy Breton's 2008 "P'tit Max" at Jeu de Quille, 75014
A bottle of Descombes' 2009 Brouilly at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, 75001
A disagreement over Descombes' Régnié at Les Pipos, 75005
A bottle of Foillard's 2007 Morgon "3.14" at Le Châteaubriand, 75011