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Two Top Draws Among Lyon's Culinary Oasis

Leon de Lyon boasts fine regional fare in a refined setting

IS chef Jean-Pierre Lacombe's use of simple regional produce like the crosne a sign of the times?

Crosne - a crunchy white tuber, commonly called a Chinese artichoke and pronounced "krone" - is "a poor man's vegetable that people used quite a bit during the war," says one of the hostesses at Leon de Lyon. "It's something we're getting back to."

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Yet while these may be hard times for France's fine restaurants, one wouldn't know it from a recent evening at Leon. The elegant yet warm dining rooms were full of a mix of locals and visitors, many of them crunching happily on crosnes and cardons - edible thistle stock, another resurrected local product - that join onions, truffle, marrow, and foie gras in out-of-this-world ravioli.

Leon de Lyon is situated on a hard-to-find side street in central Lyon's peninsula between the Rhone and Saone rivers, in a spot where a restaurant has stood for 90 years.

It is classic Lyon without being stuffy. If the warm reception at the door doesn't convince the diner, surely the sight of a $15 child's menu among all the $30 a la carte dishes will.

Recently redecorated in light-colored woods and pale-spring yellows, the restaurant also hosts a gallery of 50 paintings, both old and new, of chefs. It's worth arriving early or staying late, whether at lunch or dinner, just to get a good look at the art.

"We're gradually adapting our menu to our more refined setting," Mr. Lacombe says. "But at the same time keeping the Lyonnais traditions as the basis. I'm very drawn to regional cuisine."

Regional dishes - a meadow salad of dandelions, crosnes, and cardons, a brain-and-tongue appetizer, the classic pig's feet - are indicated on the menu by an asterisk. But the exotic fare doesn't stop there.

Soft-boiled eggs with sea urchin or a half-cooked flan with generous truffle shavings might start the meal, which might continue with an entree of range chicken on a vinegar-sauce bed, Lacombe's Lyonnais ravioli, or a fillet of French Charolais beef.

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And diners would be well advised to save room for one of a bewildering variety of desserts. Chocolate lovers will be drawn to the plate of six (six!) bitter chocolate creations, including a chocolate macaroon, two mousses, an orange cream between chocolate wafers, and a chocolate creme bre. At $13 it may sound a little steep, but compared with Paris restaurants that are charging $15 for a dish of homemade ice cream, it looks like a bargain.

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