But gastronomic adventure isn't limited to BordeRio. Upscale eateries are popping up all over town. "A lot of people have traveled to Buenos Aires, to Lima, to Europe," observes Chilean chef Carlo von Mühlenbrock. "They come back to Santiago and they expect more. That means the restaurants here can't get away with what they got away with before."

Osadía, von Mühlenbrock's stylish new restaurant, was the perfect place to celebrate my 40th. Joining us at our table, the dashing 29-year-old chef told us how his well-to-do family originally frowned on his decision to go into the restaurant biz. "Their image of a chef was this fat guy who would come out of the kitchen every once in a while to smoke a cigarette. And a restaurant was a place where you would go to get steak and French fries." Today, von Mühlenbrock is something of a poster boy for Santiago's gourmet set, appearing on TV, writing a food column for a glossy magazine, and giving cooking classes in a teaching kitchen in the restaurant's basement.

Osadía's eclectic seasonal menu ventures far from steak and fries: Peruvian ceviche, seafood ravioli, and fish, chicken, pork, beef, and rabbit, in simple but often surprising combinations (rabbit with spaetzle, for example). The dessert sampler (which I had to order; it was my birthday, after all) has a surfeit of mousses, tarts, truffles, and sorbets.

The increasing number of non-Chileans moving to the city and setting up businesses is also giving Santiago a cosmopolitan jolt. "You've got French, Japanese, Spaniards, Peruvians, New Zealanders - all sorts of people coming in," notes Dell Taylor, an Auckland native who quit her office job four years ago to open the popular Café Melba. "They're bringing new skills, new ideas, new standards, and a diversity that simply didn't exist before." Her cafe, for example, offers "exactly what a New Zealander or Australian would look for": lots of light, good fresh food, and an informal, helpful staff. And Santiaguinos have taken to it heartily: The lines at lunchtime stretch to the street.