This Week’s NY Happenings: LUCKYRICE, Taste Of The Nation, Manon

NOW: The Mother Of All Rice Fests Returns
LUCKYRICE is back in New York and ready to celebrate all things Asian with a superstar lineup. Tonight is the kickoff, with Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, and it’s already sold out. Fortunately other tickets remain, as the festival tours through ramen with Chuko, Filipino food with Umi Nom, and a cabana night market at The Maritime Hotel. On Thursday night the focus shifts to “chef cocktails.” Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto hosts while luminaries from Experimental Cocktail Club, Macao Trading Co., and his own Tribeca Canvas put Asian accents on some very fine sips.

LUCKYRICE kicks off tonight, April 29th. Cocktail Feast: A Journey East starts at 8pm on Thursday, May 2nd, at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, East Village). Tickets for the cocktails are $40. To learn more aboutt he hotel, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides. Photo by Parliament of Owls.

NOW: Taste Of The Nation
Seventy of the city’s best bars and restaurants will all be in one place tonight as the 26th annual Taste of the Nation goes off at 82MERCER. Players like ACME, Pouring Ribbons, and The Dead Rabbit are only the beginning, and all proceeds go to fighting childhood hunger.

Taste of the Nation starts at 7:30pm on Thursday, April 25th, at 82MERCER (82 Mercer St., Soho). General admission tickets are $225 ($185 is tax-deductible). To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Manon Opens In Meatpacking
Moscow’s Cafe Pushkin peeps take another stab at NYC with glossy Meatpacking triplex Manon. The kitchen is run by a former Public hand, working up seasonal ingredients with international accents. Industrial ironwork meets chandeliers on the glossy interior. Opulence, it has it.

Manon (407 W. 14th St., Meatpacking District) opens Wednesday, May 1st. To learn more about the restaurant and lounge, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by checking out BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email. 

Experimental Cocktail Club to Open Experimental Beach in Ibiza This Summer

Are you hip to Experimental Cocktail Club? If you’re a serious cocktail enthusiast you should be. ECC, as it’s known, is a series of cocktail bars in Paris, London, and New York that are as cutting-edge as they are elegant. If there’s a cocktail equivalent to molecular gastronomy, it can be found in these clubby lounges, where wild, weird things are done with booze and mixers to make cocktails that are both fascinating and delicious. I’d be shocked if Wylie and Ferran haven’t dropped by yet. ECC bars aren’t snooty per se, but they’re into pushing boundaries, not serving vodka tonics, which makes them precisely the kinds of bars that that whiney, Yelp-style rant the New York Post published a couple of weeks ago was supposed to take down a notch. But bars aren’t for babies, and ECC is a bar for trying crazy, experimental drinks. You should therefore visit with an open mind, not a propensity for being offended. And despite, or perhaps because of, its exclusivity, ECC is doing great. So great, in fact, that it’s opening a summer bar in Ibiza this year called Experimental Beach Ibiza. The Balearic Islands have never tasted anything like it. 

Opening in May, Experimental Beach Ibiza will be situated on the beaches of southern Ibiza’s Ses Salinas national reserve, and it promises "marvelous cocktails, fresh local food, and sumptuous sunbeds." That local food will come from the kitchen of chef Gerard Ortiz Arlandis. About those cocktails: They come from ECC bartenders in Paris, London, and New York, adding a beachy little twist. "Expect beautifully giant punch bowls perfect for sharing with friends as the sun sinks into the horizon," says the press release. Sounds good to me, I’d love for well-made punches to replace bottle service among elite drinkers. One vodka and three uninspired mixers does not a great cocktail make. 

Of course, all of this raises the question: exactly how weird are these weird cocktails? When I visited the New York outpost of ECC last year to sip drinks with Mike Birbiglia, we had, among other cocktails, the Kinkakuji. It’s premade with coconut milk and regular cow’s milk, which is curdled and filtered twice, then mixed with overproof rum and Japanese whiskey. It takes 3 days to make. Then there was the Jack O’ Lantern. Directions: a whole egg is vigorously shaken with a large dose of butternut squash-infused Plantation Barbados 5 year old Rum and a bit of coconut milk and homemade cinnamon syrup. It’s served up, with some nutmeg freshly grated on the top. They were both as tasty as they were bizarre. 

It remains to be seen whether visitors to Ibiza will be into flavors like these, but last I checked it’s a pretty open-minded island, so I like ECC’s chances. If you visit, be advised that you’re expected to step outside your comfort zone and try something different. If you order a vodka tonic, they won’t insult you for your uncreative order. But they will charge you extra for it.

Photo: Toni Ramon

[Related: BlackBook Ibiza Guide; Tasting Experimental Cocktails with Sleepwalk With Me Star Mike Birbiglia]

Tasting Experimental Cocktails with ‘Sleepwalk With Me’ Star Mike Birbiglia

Comedian, actor, and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia has a bit about “two-drink Mike” being the best version of himself: friendly, interesting, and fun to be around. Supposedly things go downhill from there, but I got to enjoy the company of seven-drink Mike on a recent evening, and the experience was fun, enlightening, and, at times, hilarious. We met at New York’s Experimental Cocktail Club, the first stateside location of the Parisian phenomenon where bartender Nicolas “Niko” de Soto pushes the boundaries of cocktail-making in ingredients, technique, and presentation. In other words, it’s the perfect place to taste a bunch of weird drinks with an interesting guy. 

Birbiglia’s a bit weary from traveling, having just flown back from London, where he did a few dates of his ongoing production My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, a stage show about his love life. It’s a wonder he has time for one. He’s busier than ever these days, having appeared in Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series Girls, and starred as Al in Lynn Shelton’s movie Your Sister’s Sister. But he’s most looking forward to the August 24 release of Sleepwalk With Me, the semi-fictionalized film version of his 2008 stage show and 2010 memoir of the same title. 
As for the title, Birbiglia suffers from rapid eye movement behavior disorder, a.k.a. sleepwalking, and it’s hardly the benign, comical malady portrayed on TV. Birbiglia sometimes acts out his dreams, a condition that reached a dangerous pinnacle in a Walla Walla, Washington La Quinta hotel while on tour several years ago. In his vivid dream, a missile was headed right for him. Panicked, he jumped through his room’s second story window, which earned him an emergency room visit and 33 stitches, along with an overnight evaluation at a sleep clinic and a bill for the broken window. ("It was like $275," he says.)
He’s doing much better today, though. He slumbers in a cinched-up sleep sack – the concentration necessary to undo it is enough to wake him, he explains – and has a prescription for Klonopin, which he really shouldn’t combine with alcohol, but this is for journalism. And thus, with the debonair Niko guiding us, we begin an evening of futuristic cocktails, with Birbiglia offering his thoughts on each. When he starts visibly fading in the later rounds, we wrap things up quickly and head into the night. 
(A note about the cocktails: To give you an idea of what’s in these drinks, I’m including rough versions of the recipes, but you probably shouldn’t attempt to make them at home. Instead, head to Experimental Cocktail Club in New York – there are also locations in London, and, of course, Paris – and let the experts take care of you.)
Cocktail #1: Kinkakuji
Recipe: Premade with coconut milk and regular cow’s milk which is curdled and filtered twice, then mixed with overproof rum and Japanese whiskey. It takes 3 days to make. “It’s like a clarified twist on a pina colada,” Niko says.
“You’re a complete artist, Niko, and you understand this in a way that I never will, but I respect it and enjoy it. This reminds me of summertime. It’s what you hope they’re going to serve at Sandals resort in Aruba, but they never do. It’s really beautiful.” 
Cocktail #2: Experience #2
Recipe: 2oz Citadelle Gin, 3/4 oz homemade elderflower cordial, 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice. Bruise 5 basil leaves with a string of lemongrass, shake and serve up with a lemongrass straw as a garnish. “This one is may be the easiest drink on the menu, and we’ve put it on the menu of every bar we’ve opened,” says Niko. “It’s the most popular drink here.”
“Oh wow! Cheers! We don’t deserve these drinks! My film is not as good as this drink, and I spent years on it… years I say! Yeah, that’s really incredible.  This tastes like a garden. It’s deceptively healthy tasting. I feel like I’m mowing the lawn. There’s no alcohol taste at all, unlike those times when I was a kid and took shots of Gordon’s gin from my father’s liquor cabinet and then filled the bottle with water. And I like the lemongrass straw. We’re living like kings here.” 
Cocktail #3: Mancora
Recipe: Chai-Roiboos tea infused Diablada Pisco is shaken with lime juice, homemade Malbec syrup, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, and a splash of Fernet Branca. Served Up. “My hope is to create new flavors for the customers,” says Niko. “To mix things together that maybe you think shouldn’t be mixed.
“It’s a little bit celebratory. It makes me feel richer than I am, like I’m drinking this and I can’t afford to drink it. You’d expect it to be in a crystal punch bowl. It feels layered and adventuresome.”
Cocktail #4: Valhalla Rising
Recipe: Mix Linie Aquavit and Oloroso Sherry with homemade ginger syrup and lime juice. Shake and serve long in a highball, top up with Bitter End Beer. Garnish with candied ginger.
“Oh my god, is this ginger? Now I’ve got a friendly burning of the tongue. This is explosive. My palate can’t quite handle it, though I enjoy it in moderation. This is what the Queen drinks when she has tonsillitis. The only cocktail I’ve ever invented was pizza and Coca-Cola, where you dip your pizza into your Coke and drink it.”
Cocktail #5: L’Americain
Recipe: Artichoke-infused Noilly Pratt Red Vermouth, Toasted Walnut-infused Campari and Thyme Water are carbonated with CO2 and bottled. Serve in a bottle with a straw. “It’s bitter and sweet at the same time, it’s not a strong drink, it’s more like an aperitif,” says Niko.
“This is the Armageddon of drinks. It’s shocking. It’s eye opening. It’s a blockbuster. Every time I sip it I feel like bowling pins being knocked over. It tastes like weeds, it’s a rugged taste.” 
Cocktail #6: Jack O’Lantern
Recipe: A whole egg is vigorously shaken with a large dose of Butternut Squash-infused Plantation Barbados 5 year old Rum, and a bit of coconut milk and homemade cinnamon syrup. Served up with some nutmeg freshly grated on the top of the drink. “It’s a flip, it’s a whole egg, white and yolk. It’s shaken really hard and it makes the coffee and creamy texture,” Niko says. “It’s named after the Spiderman character. One time a woman came to the bar and drank eight of these.”
“It’s very smooth, like a fine cheesecake. You have to trust the person who makes this for you. It tastes like you could bite into it. I feel like I could take a nap inside this drink. It feels comfy, like there are pillows in it.”
Drink #7: Black Heart
Bourbon is stirred with French African dark coffee beans, 2 dashes of Bittermen’s Boston Bittahs, and some Cynar and Maraschino Liqueur. Before pouring in the glass, spray a little bit of Laphroaig on the surface of the coupette, and garnish with some orange oil extracted from the skin.
“This drink forces you to do a Robert De Niro impersonation. That is the your-father’s-pipe of drinks. You need to spend time with it and nurse it and sit in the study with a copy of Dickens opened to a random page.” 

Getting High in London: Tickets for the Shard Observation Deck Now on Sale

It’s time to get your advance tickets for the observation deck of Western Europe’s tallest building – the Shard.  This Renzo Piano creation officially opens February 1, 2013 – just in time for that certain holiday of luuurrve. We know planning ahead can be a tall order, so we’ve done it for you. Check out our list of eight ways to keep your date swooning after taking in those million-pound views.

Top Ten Paris Clubs for Fashion Week Debauchery

Paris Fashion Week is upon us, along with the infamous parties. Following a full day of runway shows , you’ll find the models (and LiLo , of course) lifting their skirts at one of the clubs below. A word to the unbeautiful: you’ll have to be B-list or above to make it past the velvet rope this week.

Le Baron (Champs-Elysées) – You’ll find a smorgasbord of sloppy celebrities inside this Golden Triangle club. Or at least you would if you had any hope of getting in. Short of blowing the doorman, however, it’s not going to happen during Fashion Week.

Le Montana (Saint-Germain) – The painfully cool Montana is where you’ll find a bloated Freddy Beigbeder hitting on models half his age. Relatively new and absolutely of the moment, it’s owned by André (Le Baron) and a fashion photographer who likes to post the panty fest on his blog. ● Chez Moune (Pigalle) – The last Fashion Week (in March) left Chez Moune in disarray and with a growing reputation for debauchery. This historic Pigalle cabaret has been officially reincarnated as a late-night den for dirty dancing.

Le Régine (Champs-Elysées) – Outside of Fashion Week, this event space is pretty much off the radar. In March and October, however, it plays host to some of the most over-the-top fashion parties.

Maison Blanche (Champs-Elysées) – Starfuckers flock year-round to this Champs-Elysées perch for slick decor, sweeping views over the Seine, and jet-setty vibe. The main event during FW is a Saturday late-night bash with DJ Mel DeBarge.

Murano (Marais) More chill than the other club contenders, the Murano’s polar lounge, with its chalet-meets-2001 decor, is the perfect place to wear your new Rick Owens .

Chez Castel (Saint-Germain) – Sports stars, showbiz kids, fashion celebs and the odd politico love this lavish three-floor mansion. Plenty of private rooms and a basement dance floor.

Le Costes Bar (Champs-Elysées) – The bar’s reputation may be waning, but during FW the pretty people will still be sleeping here, and they’re gonna need a last drink.

Le Mathis (Champs-Elysées) – If you get past the discreet but difficult door of Le Mathis, you’ll find yourself in a small square bar, draped in red and looking every bit like an old brothel. It’ll be C-list during Fashion Week, but still…

Experimental Cocktail Club (Sentier) – Emptied out of its regular collection of beautifuls (off to invite-only parties elsewhere), the ECC may actually be managable during Fashion Week. The modern-day speakeasy, with its short list of creative sips, is always a delight.

Industry Insiders: Romee de Goriainoff, Undercover Cocktailist

The force behind two of the hottest bars in Paris — the Experimental Cocktail Club and the recently opened Curio Parlor — Romee de Gorianoff abandoned a golden banking career to pursue his true love: the cocktail. His contemporary speakeasies are packed nightly with an almost exclusively word-of-mouth buzz, full of interesting types serious about their liquor.

Point of Origin: A graduate economics student from Dauphine University in Paris and Bocconi University in Milan turned entrepreneur in Paris in the bar business. I was supposed to start a year ago trading in a brokerage firm in London the week before I found out about the location that was to become the Experimental Cocktail Club. Between being a finance guy and an entrepreneur, the choice became very evident for me!

What’s a typical day? Waking up at 9 a.m. After breakfast, my partners [Olivier Bon and Pierre Charles Cross] and I meet around 10 a.m. at our office. We review the entire business situation: check orders, the incoming deliveries, make a little brief on the employee situation, the payroll, etc. We also talk about the reservations for the evening, the special parties we want to promote, the planning. These meetings always cover both clubs, the Experimental Cocktail Club and the Curio Parlor. After lunch, we go on the clubs and check what is missing, what is broken, etc. and fix what must be fixed. In the afternoon, most of the time we meet with spirit brand salespeople, do some tasting, etc. Around 6 p.m., we indulge ourselves a little break before actually working the bars. Afterwards, we work from 7 or 8 p.m. to minimum 2 a.m. during the week, and to 4 a.m. over the weekend. Going to sleep minimum at 3 a.m.. Then waking up again at 9 a.m.

Tell us a little about your team. I have two partners that are also my best friends and roommates: Pierre Charles Cross and Olivier Bon. I also have two bar managers: Carina Soto Velasquez and Emily Baylis. Carina is taking care of the Experimental Cocktail Club, and Emily is in charge of the Curio Parlor. Farock Benzema is the doorman for the ECC and is also doing an amazing though difficult job. Besides, I have a bunch of occasional bartenders doing two or three shifts per week.

Favorite Hangs: I love the newly opened Mama Shelter Hotel just in front of the Fleche d’ Or in the 20th. They’re serving amazing cocktails. I also go to L’échelle de Jacob in the 6th from time to time, Harry’s Bar, the Park Hyatt. For a night out I still enjoy the Baron. As for restaurants, my favorite is l’Ami Jean in the 7th. I also go quite often to Chez Michel, les Valseuses, au Bascou, le 404, le Pré Verre, Itinéraires, l’Unico … so many restaurants in Paris!

What makes your bars different? Both the Experimental Cocktail Club and Curio Parlor are thoroughly based on quality. Quality goes from the wine, cocktails, and spirits you’re being served, the music you’re listening to, to the service that must be cool but always serious for customers. The design is also very important, although different in the two bars. We wanted to create venues in which one could feel comfortable while drinking. The five senses must be awake when one goes out.

I think it’s the main difference with other bars in Paris and the reason we are unique. You can spend a night out at the Curio Parlor or the Experimental Cocktail Club, drink great drinks or high quality spirits in a nice atmosphere, and listen to nice DJ set … at a reasonable price! And they are also different from one another. The Experimental Cocktail Club is more of bar that we wanted reminiscent of the prohibition area. The atmosphere is very low key, and it could be a little be seen as a French-bistro-turned-cocktail bar. However, most people compare it to a typical cocktail bar from New York. We wanted the Curio Parlor to be like a British gentleman’s club in which ladies would be of course admitted! The green, the material, the overall feel is British. It’s more chic (but not snobbier) than the Experimental Cocktail Club, but still keeps a cool atmosphere.

Favorite bars elsewhere in the world? I have many! Three of my favorite bars are based in New York City: PDT (the best), Flatiron Lounge, and the Pegu Club. I also love Milk and Honey and Little Branch in New York City, too. In London, I go to the Lonsdale, Montgomery Place, Shoreditch House, Momo’s, and Purple Bar for a date.