Another expat barrier-breaker is Mark Beeley, a 29-year-old Princeton graduate who arrived in Chile in 1993 as a journalist and veered into restauranting four years later. His highly acclaimed La Ruta 66 ("Route 66") specializes in fusion cuisine - "basically French-American," says Beeley. His most popular dishes include venison medallions with braised spinach and artichoke, and crab fondue served with plantain chips. The night I visited, Beeley was testing recipes for a new seasonal menu: alternating rounds of lobster and tenderloin, pork ribs in a top-secret barbecue sauce, and a blackberry tart in a phyllo crust.

"Chileans are very conservative, and it took a while for them to get used to the combinations," says Beeley. "But people have gotten more sophisticated." In fact, he says, it takes more effort than ever to stay on the cutting edge. That, for a visitor, is exciting news indeed.

Two Tickets, Muchas Gracias
Restaurants are the most obvious sign of Santiago's awakening, but they're only part of the picture. Wine bars like Kilomètre 11680 and La Cava del Rio are giving bons vivants a chance to sample the country's world-class vintages in comfortably sophisticated surroundings. And clever nightspots such as Tantra Lounge (a restaurant-club-lounge-disco that is prob-ably the hottest place in town) are adding a touch of daring to an after-hours scene that for years had been centered on the informal pubs of Avenida Suecia in Providencia.

The theater, film, music, and dance scenes are more vibrant than ever, too. Many of Chile's most important artists returned from exile during the 1990s, and a new generation has come of age since then. Internationally known directors such as Ricardo Larraín and Gonzalo Justiniano have helped lead a veritable explosion in Chilean cinema. Globe-trotting music groups Inti-Illimani (contemporary folk)and La Ley (pop-rock) have likewise raised the bar for local acts. A host of new and established theaters present provocative plays by local heavyweights such as Jorge Díaz, as well as by an ever-growing number of up-and-coming talents.