L'Absinthe Café: First Impressions
The simplest one I know of involves walking secondary streets of the target neighborhood in the evening, taking note of restaurants that quickly fill up with locals. Avoid the empty ones, avoid the ones with people who look like tourists. Above all, avoid the ones with menus in English. Obviously, read the menus. That's pretty much it.
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)...
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Located a stone's throw away from the Arts & Metiers station, on 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.
The 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 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 so far.
Overall, I think L'Absinthe Café is a wonderfully un-hyped trouvaille of the kind one would normally only share with friends and family. Given my role as a SiteBits contributor, however, I decided to extend the "circle of trust" to all of our readers.
54 Rue de Turbigo
Paris, 3rd Arrondissement
+33 (0) 1 48 87 79 30
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.