I said that Santiago has loosened its collar, but it may be more accurate to say that the city has loosened its belt. That's because Santiago's cultural revival has been led by a boom in innovative eating places. Which is odd, if you consider that Chilean cuisine is undistinguished, to put it kindly. During my only other visit to Chile, two years ago, eating out was a question of biological survival. Now it's one of the best ways to experience the city. "When I used to come here as a tourist, all the restaurants served the same food," restaurateur Susana Schnell told me as I lunched at Zanzibar,
a Moroccan-inspired eatery she opened last year in the
popular suburban "gastronomic center," BordeRio. "Your only choice was between rice and potatoes."
Zanzibar could hardly be farther from that. With its colorful bead curtains and mosaic floors, it features what Peruvian-born, U.S.-educated Schnell calls a spice-based cuisine, with every dish showing off a different pungent flavor: breadsticks dipped in yellow curry; zingy ginger-carrot soup; Chilean salmon in ginger, curry, and soy sauce. "Chileans are traditionally timid with spices, so this was kind of a wild idea," she explains. "But we've found a niche."
Zanzibar is one of 10 restaurants that make up BordeRio, a sort of gourmet food court that opened in January 2000 to serve Santiago's posh eastern suburbs of Providen-cia and Las Condes, and the business travelers staying at nearby hotels. The mission-style riverside complex offers Spanish, Peruvian, Italian, Argentine, Japanese, French, and other international cuisines, daily happy hours, and spectacular views of the Andean cordillera.