We were in Carmel-Monterey to check out three restaurants when we saw the World anchored a few hundred yards off Fisherman's Wharf.
The 644-foot private luxury yacht circumnavigates the globe, stopping at a different port every few days so its mega-wealthy passengers called "Residents" can see the locals up close.
The Residents own and live in the 165 apartments aboard the ship. We tried to arrange a night's stay in one of the empty rooms.
Ha, ha! Very funny (www.aboardtheworld.com).
Instead, we camped at the Bavarian-themed Hofsas House, a comfy, 38-room inn owned by the same family for 60-plus years. In 1957, founder Donna Hofsas commissioned renowned artist Maxine Albro to paint the wall mural by the entrance, a fitting welcome (summer rates are $139-$259; San Carlos and Fourth, Carmel; 831-624-2745, www.hofsashouse.com).
We sat on the inn's fourth-floor deck overlooking Monterey Bay, munching crackers and three delectable cheeses from the 37-year-old Cheese Shop. It stocks 225 cheeses on a given day, with 500 wine selections (in Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero, Carmel; 831-625-2272, www.thecheeseshopinc.com).
Around the corner is the 2-month-old 400 Degrees, specializing in "gourmet burgers and fries." It feels like an upscale cross between Johnny Rockets and Smashburger, with bold colors and sleek touches, such as a textured, stainless-steel wall.
Looking around, one lunch pal said, "You go to Carmel to step back in time. In here, you step into the future. This could be anywhere."
David Fink owns it, along with three of the area's top restaurants Aubergine at the l'Auberge Hotel, Cantinetta Luca and Salumeria Luca. Why a burger joint in stylish Carmel, known for its fine dining?
"There isn't a place dedicated to hamburgers, so we're filling a niche," he said on the phone later. "The (interior designer) created a retro diner look, but very modern and (eco-friendly)."
So modern that our server handed us a Presto tablet on which to play games while we waited for our food, and to charge our meal with a swipe of a credit card.
Though our burgers looked great, we found them on the dry side, on toasted buns too "bready" for the 6-ounce patties. The Kennebec fries were fine, and the house-made pineapple soda was excellent ($5-$17.50; Mission and Seventh, Carmel; 831-244-0040, www.mirabelgroup.com).
A look at Lokal
The most-anticipated restaurant opening in local memory was for Lokal in Carmel Valley. Owners Brendan Jones and Matthew Zolan have based their phenomenal 9-week-old operation on the five foodie buzz words local, seasonal, fresh, sustainable, artisanal. Add "molecular gastronomy" to that.
"We like to play with comfort food and classic dishes, kicking them up a notch," Zolan said on the phone. "(For instance) our boneless chicken wings (require) six to eight hours of prep time."
Halibut cevice with cilantro, mole sauce-based cracklings, kumquat and avocado was a marvel of flavors and textures, looking like art on the plate. The whimsical Dungeness crab "hot dog" with herb- and pistachio-studded guacamole was so tasty that we thought about ordering another.
P.S.: The restaurant's walls are chalkboards, and diners are encouraged to express themselves ($7.50 to $22; 13762 Center St., Carmel Valley; 831-659-5886, www.facebook.com/lokalcarmel).
The other side: da Giovanni
By contrast is the more traditional Italian-themed da Giovanni, up a flight of stairs in a subdued, handsomely decorated dining room. Its sister restaurants are Bistro Beaujolais (French-Mediterranean) and Bistro Giovanni (Mediterranean with California flair).
We're not fans of red sauce, but we could have eaten this marinara-based version with a soup spoon. Cream and butter play roles, but it's the spice mix that makes it sing.
Each week, owner Firok Shield roasts spices and delivers the blend to his chefs.
"There are 12 spices (in the mix)," he said on the phone. "Among them are cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, garlic and fennel. I roast them myself because they burn easily and I can give them my (undivided) attention."
Narrowing down the lengthy menu, we began with luscious meatballs and from-scratch fusilli covered in that marvelous sauce.
We moved to crab- and smoked salmon-stuffed ravioli in cream sauce, topped with perfect scallops; and linguine with whole and minced clams in a sauce of white wine, tomato, mushrooms and garlic.
"This is so wonderful I'm afraid I'm going to keep eating," said one of our group.
Well, then go ahead ($7-$40; Lincoln between Fifth and Sixth, Carmel; 831-626-5800, www. threecarmelrestaurants.com).