La Mer Casée (Saint-Philippe, Réunion, France)

I may have mentioned previously that the people of Reunion love their “pique niques” and driving around, so on weekends, particularly on Sunday mornings, the tradition is to drive around, get some food, and take it to your picnic spot. One of the preferred foods for picnicking is grilled chicken, which even has a unique name for the island: “poulet bitume” (literally, “asphalt chicken” or “roadway chicken”). On a weekend with good weather, the result is an almost uncountable number of places setting up a grill and selling fresh-grilled chicken at the side of the road. It’s not just restaurants, either, but houses, shacks, stores, and the like all set up with their grill selling fresh-grilled chicken and assorted sides. It’s quite the sight, and one that we had missed on our first weekend on the island (since we were far from the nearest road, up at the Gîte de la Caverne Dufour). But on our second weekend on the island, as we were driving along the southern coast by Saint-Philippe, we came across the beautifully-situated La Mer Casée right around lunch time, and decided to check it out for our grilled chicken.

The second you stop at La Mer Casée and get out of your car, you immediately are presented with two things: first, the sight of the two large grills outside the restaurant, absolutely packed with chicken grilling away. The next is the smell: before grilling, the chicken is marinated in a sweet and sour mix of herbs and spices, which, upon my inquiring, learned that most vendors keep this as a secret, but like my various carri dishes on the island, the primary key here is “spicy without a lot of pepper heat”. We ordered their lunch special, which was grilled chicken served up civet (stew) style in an onion sauce, and took our number and got seated. The next wonderful thing about La Mer Casée, is their dining area: it’s literally a grassy patch on a a cliff looking over the rough waves coming in from the Indian ocean.

After a good 20 minute wait (at La Mer Casée they were cooking birds to order, which was fine, since the view over the ocean was so pleasant), one of the workers crossed the road with our plate of food, and we found ourselves with a rather substantial plate of grilled chicken absolutely smothered in a sauce made of both cooked and raw onions, along with the obligatory beans, rice, and a nice lemon-based rougail. This was absolutely delicious. The marinade and smoke from the grill had nicely penetrated the meat, the skin was cooked to the point of crispiness without burning, and everything was just oozing with spicy marinade and the onion sauce.

It was delicious enough that we had a spectator. We had noticed that Les Reunionnaises generally seem to like dogs, but have a laissez-faire attitude with them, so it wasn’t uncommon for neighborhood dogs, strays, and semi-strays to come along looking for handouts, and in this case, a smaller mixed-breed dog, was apparently well known to the restaurant folks who called him “Carlos”, who kept shushing him away, while still occasionally tossing him a scrap or two. I rather liked him.

Overall, La Mer Casée was a spot not to be missed: great chicken, good prices, and an absolutely stunning dining terrace over the ocean. I can see why “poulet bitume” is so popular.

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