As simple as the method may be, most of the time it just works. Et voici my latest Parisian discovery: L'Absinthe Café in the 3rd Arrondissement (not to be confused with the restaurant L'Absinthe in the 1st)...
Located a stone's throw away from the Arts & Metiers station, on the Rue de Turbigo, this little bistro/brasserie offers a relatively simple menu based on traditional French and North African cuisine. There's a blackboard announcing rotating daily specials that also change by season. Be sure to ask your waiter/waitress for recommendations.
Service is friendly and helpful, but rather informal. I've been several times, months apart, and each time I got the same waitress who made rather sarcastic (but good-natured) comments about everything: the dishes I ordered, my peculiar way of phrasing questions in French and the regularity of my visits. This may not suit everybody, but I absolutely loved those dry and witty exchanges (well, at least on her part they were witty, I was just trying to keep up) and so we quickly established a rapport that I found rather charming. Most importantly, her suggestions were really helpful.
The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. I liked the soft music on the stereo (although I admit I can't remember what it was - I just remember liking it). There are many posters on the walls - seemingly old ads - that give the dining room a somewhat cosmopolitan look. The lighting is dim, so don't come with a newspaper. But do come with a date (umm.. unless it's a first date: L'Absinthe Café might be a bit too informal for that).
Prices are more than reasonable, by Parisian standards: I've saved my receipts and it appears that I spent between 25 and 35 euros in total on each visit (wine and service included; I think the lower amount was when I shared an appetizer with my companion). Wines are priced between 10 and 30 euros per bottle. In any case, now that I think of it, L'Absinthe may very well offer the best quality-to-price ratio I've seen in Paris.
Overall, I think L'Absinthe Café is a wonderfully un-hyped trouvaille of
the kind that one would normally share only with friends and family. Given my role as a SiteBits contributor, however, I decided to extend the "circle of trust" to all our readers.
54 Rue de Turbigo
P.S. Only now I realize the name is not a joke - good ol' absinthe is actually available at the bar. Well, there's always next time.