By Nell McShane Wulfhart
Photography by Luis García
Not long ago, fine dining in Santiago meant European-style restaurants and menus. Quietly but quickly over the past few years, the Chilean capital has risen to give South America’s culinary kingpin, Lima, a run for its money. Across the city, a crop of creative young chefs, such as Rodolfo Guzmán and Carolina Bazán, has nurtured the movement with cuisine that’s laser-focused on Chile’s homegrown abundance, and locals are responding: Adventurous restaurants fill nightly with diners embracing a new appreciation for experimental, multicourse tasting menus. Pull up a chair at six of the city’s most exciting tables, where what’s on your fork is more than just the food on your plate.
From Forest to Sea: Boragó
Rodolfo Guzmán’s fascination with foraging for ingredients once used only by the indigenous Mapuche population has placed him in the vanguard of Santiago chefs. Diners who enter his elegant restaurant
bypass an outdoor grill, often staffed by a cook roasting lamb. Choose from two tasting menus of six or ten courses – such as a venison crudo with maqui
berries, or a crunchy cylinder of sweet, iced flower petals that guests pluck from a nest of twigs – that showcase desert plants, some of Chile’s 750 types of seaweed, and rainwater collected in Patagonia. Nueva Costanera 3467.
Guzmán’s signature dish is a broth made from cochayuyo
, a seaweed root. “It’s hard and has a fermented flavor,” he says of the typically thrown-away scrap. The dark, earthy broth is poured around a smooth rock covered in a crust of black beans in the center of a bowl, meant to convey the look and flavor of the sea.
Modern Chilean: 99 Restaurante
A youthful crew in “99” baseball caps wields tweezers and torches in Kurt Schmidt’s open kitchen
. Distressed, blue-painted wood tables help channel a sophisticated farmhouse vibe that extends to dishes such as roasted miniature carrots with dollops of cream and the mushroom-infused butter that accompanies bread. “I love traditional techniques, such as fermentations and smoking,” says Schmidt, who apprenticed with Rodolfo Guzmán and worked with René Redzepi at Noma, among other notable chefs, before going solo. While platings are complex and often sculptural, Schmidt sums up his approach to cooking and flavors simply: “Let nature do its work.” Stop by at lunchtime on Friday for street-food-inspired meals. Andrés de Fuenzalida 99.
: The tasting-menu-only dinners mean you’re in for whatever Schmidt fancies that day, which might include smoked pork leg or potato foam, but make sure to order the wine pairing, a parade of biodynamic and natural wines from small Chilean producers, with the occasional cider or home-brewed raspberry liqueur thrown in.
The cozy interior at Ambrosía.
Fit for the Food Gods: Ambrosía
Tucked away on a quiet street in the upscale Vitacura neighborhood, Ambrosía
was one of the first fine-dining restaurants in Santiago to draw locals, rather than foreigners, to a menu driven by Chilean ingredients. This was thanks to Carolina Bazán, who trained in Paris before returning home and reinventing her parents’ restaurant with a daily market-led menu that’s artfully executed, from lamb sweetbreads to fresh locos
, a Chilean abalone she tops with parsley pesto. Pamplona 78.
Bazán’s seafood shines, and one of her favorites is cangrejo dorado
, which she gets delivered live. “It’s like a Chilean king crab,” Bazán says of its elegant, subtle flavor. “I serve it ceviche-style with orange and grapefruit and a bit of fruity sorbet.”
Peumayén's courtyard patio.
Blast from the Past: Peumayén
Reclaimed wood and stone in this fashionable Bellavista townhouse
reflect the menu’s earthy inspiration – dozens of varieties of potatoes, algae, and other adventurous ingredients, such as conger eel. Favorites from a recent visit include a series of eight sweet, spicy, and savory breads derived from indigenous recipes and a pisco sour with pineapple and avocado, but even the midmeal palate cleansers, such as sorbets made from Atacama Desert plants, will make taste buds wake up and take notice. Constitución 136.
Chances are good that at least one menu item, whether it’s llama or cahuello
(horse), will tempt the most worldly of eaters. For those who are game, chef Juan Manuel Pena Passaro loves sending out cahuello
tartare, served on a potato pancake. “It’s the simplest thing on the menu,” he says, “one that doesn’t need many adornments.” (For an inventive spin on a more familiar ingredient, opt for the salmon set in a thick corn broth and finished with strawberry salsa.)
A refreshing celery and avocado salad at Las Cabras.
Plates with a Pop: Las Cabras
Chilean fuentes de soda
(soda fountains) usually have the retro charm of classic American diners. Two-year-old Las Cabras serves up a high-concept spin on traditional dishes in this environment, right down to the neon sign, booth and counter seating, and squeeze bottles of ketchup. Grab a stool for chef Juan Pablo Mellado Arana’s Chilean pork sandwiches on fluffy white rolls (topped with avocado), a steak tartare tinged with lemon juice, and more – all of which pair nicely with a Patagonian lager on draft or a pisco sour. Luis Thayer Ojeda 0166.
Arana recommends the apio palta
, a deceptively simple salad of avocado and celery, marinated in lemon juice and salt. It makes a perfect contrast to the tender charchas de chancho
Eye on the Underground: Restaurante 040
A basement space with just a handful of tables provides the intimate if somewhat unassuming setting for Sergio Barroso’s delightful tasting menu
. The Spanish chef worked at El Bullí, experience that translates into clever creations such as beet risotto nigiri
topped with a sliver of whitefish and an oyster paired with a bite-size scoop of neon green apple and chile sorbet. After dinner, ask to see “room number nine,” a rooftop speakeasy accessed via a false door, which serves playful cocktails such as the sweet-and-sour Pisco Crumble, made with pisco, apple, lime juice, and cinnamon. Calle Antonia López de Bello 040.
The tasting menu changes frequently, but Barroso’s favorites crop up often: “I love the miniature slab of brioche with a slice of silverside fish and its own tiny, fried spine on top,” he says. (Tip: The bones are edible.)
Originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of