Blazing Bodega: My Favorite Party Invite & Swag Bag

Maybe the heatwave is getting to me. Maybe I’m just getting up there and I’m slow on the uptake. Maybe this is the coolest invite ever. I get a million of them. Invites, that is. Hakkasan Nightclub in Vegas recently invited me to their recent opening. It came in a box with a plexi-engraved invite and tons of cool stuff called "swag." I get these super invites all the time with free stuff like speakers for the computer, salves and sunblocks, chopsticks. People send me stuff, mostly stuff I don’t really need, but my mom always said it’s the thought that counts. 

Well, somebody at the marketing company for Brisk, that delicious iced tea, sent me the best invite I’ve ever seen. A lot of thought went into it. It’s a mini refrigerator that will come in handy as the days continue to melt me. It has all sorts of stickers on it, sort of like a NASCAR car that makes the cooler look like the storefront of an NYC bodega. Inside the fridge is a scratch-off, like the lottery games, inviting me to a Brisk Bodega event tomorrow, Tuesday, at Beverly’s, 21 Essex St. 

It also had an invite to a cool Brooklyn event this Saturday, June 8th at The Space, 50 N. 3rd St. That gala has DJ Just Blaze, DJ Slink, Brenmar, Rofeoo, DJ Monique, and all sorts of other stuff like art by Artek & Mr. Kiji. I guess is your best chance to get in – but you’ll need the secret password

The thing about this amazing invite is that it’s so cool,  he event must be hot. It also reminds me of the product, and that is the point: to fill the fridge with Brisk. It was sort of lost amongst all the new delicious stuff out their like coconut water and yerba and vitamin waters and such..but now I remember how wonderful iced tea can be. 

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Nobu Hotel vs. Hakkasan: Which Vegas Grand Opening Was Better?

I saw Prince in concert at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino this past Saturday night. He performed as part of his west coast tour with a limited engagement show at The Joint, which just celebrated the 4th anniversary of its new location. My friend Jason and I arrived late to our balcony suite seats and realized, when Prince had his encore almost two hours later, that we were dancing next to Magic Johnson the entire time.

But surely seeing Prince couldn’t have been my highlight when there were two headlining grand openings that put almost everything else in Vegas–even all the Hangover III hype–on the back burner for the weekend.  Hakkasan, which seems to be taking over the globe, celebrated its official grand opening weekend. Known as a sexy, dramatic restaurant brand helmed by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon, Hakkasan has already spread its love from London to key US cities like New York and San Francisco.

What makes Hakkasan Las Vegas inside MGM Grand so special is that it’s now the biggest club in Vegas, with a killer DJ line up. Every week, clubbers can expect the likes of Tiesto, Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki and DeadMau5 behind the decks. It’s a fist pumper’s dream come true. And rather than one large dance floor, the club spans five levels, including the private Ling Ling Club, a 10,000-square-foot "experience" you’ll most likely never see as it’s so VIP. Unless you’re flying in on a private jet sorta guy.

When I gave Hakkasan LV a go on Friday night, I knew it was going to be a wild time. There were five lines to get in (Ladies Line, Expedited Line, VIP line, etc) and it’s no surprise these lines were brimming to the max even at  the early hour of 11 pm. It was the one opening everyone was talking about, and A-listers came in droves: Vanessa Hudgens, J-Lo, Paris Hilton, and Pharrell (who was apparently celebrating his 40th birthday).

While I never saw any of them in action, I did see Rev Run (from the legendary Run DMC) get behind the decks on the 4th floor. Things got real when emerging singer–and current VIBE cover star–Miguel made a surprise performance with two songs. He’s no Prince, but somehow managed to get me up on the backdrop of a VIP booth, dancing until security flagged me down. I got back to my room at, I dunno, 5am?, and returned the next night for Calvin Harris and a wild, packed crowd that I’m confident will fill all five floors every week.

A quieter, more elegant affair happened at the official grand opening celebration of Nobu Hotel inside Caesar’s Palace on Sunday. The David Rockwell-designed, 181-room boutique in its own wing is a sanctuary from the megaresort complex. In fact, it has its own elevators shuttling affluent guests between the 12,775 square-foot Nobu Restaurant on the main level to the handful of dedicated floors with calming guest rooms that feature Natura Bisse amenities in spacious, tranquil bathrooms and my friend Mark Edward Harris‘ photos and prints for engaging wall decor.

The night started with a private sake ceremony event inside the Nobu restaurant, where the intimate, refined crowd was a far cry from Hakkasan’s party animals, with most everyone decked out in suits and gowns. I couldn’t stop staring at Coco Austin, Ice-T’s wife, who came as herself. Holly Madison was also present, but I zoned in on Robert DeNiro and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa when they took five minutes to officiate the event. The energy here was a little stifled, like no one knew how to behave in the same room as Mr. DeNiro. Even the waiters passing around sake and sushi seemed awkward. Maybe if DeNiro reenacted scenes from Taxi Driver, it would have put some guests at ease. I mean, Prince performed Purple Rain. So.

In any case, things were a little more relaxed when we were all transferred over to Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis for some sushi, music and adult socializing. It was mellow, and sorta nice to know that Vegas events don’t have to be “sweat and wild.” Later that evening, Grammy nominated Ed Sheeran performed live. He’s also no Prince, but the food was good. And yes, guests—including me—got drunk in a way Vegas would be proud.

Both the Hakkasan and Nobu Hotel openings marked a moment in Vegas history in very different ways. I didn’t prefer one over the other, and both auspicious events proved Vegas has come a long way since its recession setback years ago. Hakkasan was a booze-filled, insanely nostalgic party that brought out the vices in me in the best way possible. And Nobu’s opening of the first Nobu Hotel in the world was sophisticated and fancy. I was throwing down with an older crowd in formal wear, giving me every good reason to party like it was 1999.

I’ll take either, any time. So, when’s the next party? 

[Related: BlackBook Las Vegas Guide; Listings for Hakkasan, Nobu Hotel, More by Jimmy Im; Follow Jimmy on Twitter]

This Week’s Miami Happenings: xx Performs, Off-Duty Night, Chinese New Year

TODAY: British Indie Pop Trio xx Takes On Miami
Heralded as one of indie music’s most anticipated albums, the xx’s sophomore effort, Coexist is set to charm its Miami audience at the Fillmore on Tuesday with a lineup of the gorgeously stripped down tunes by the understated trio from London. During the 90-minute set, the synthesized background is so spare that no more than two layers of electronic music accompany the hushed, velvet-smooth yet powerful vocals of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. With musical chops like these, who is worried about a sophomore slump?
xx performs at the Fillmore (1700 Washington Ave., South Beach) on Tuesday. To purchase the tickets, visit LIVE NATION. For details, check out the listing in BlackBook Guides.

MONDAY: Off- Duty Night
The guys behind the Broken Shaker are saving the overworked Miami chapter of the Bartender Brotherhood, one cocktail at a time. Come in for the Off-Duty Night, and all local booze pourers will enjoy complimentary sample cocktails made by a featured bartender. For identification purposes, consider bringing your own shaker.
Off-Duty Nights is happening every Monday at the Broken Shaker (2727 Indian Creek Dr., South Beach). For details, read the listing in BlackBook Guides.

SUNDAY: Year of the Snake
Bid farewell to the dragon and extend a warm welcome to the reptile. Commemorate Chinese New Year in style at Hakkasan by joining the festivities at a special family-style prix-fixe menu offered at $138 per person, a lion dance in the hotel lobby at 9pm, and a special Kokohana cocktail (Bacardi Rock Coconut, pineapple, basil leaves and lychee juice). Gan bay!
Kick off the Chinese New Year at Hakkasan (4441 Collins Ave., South Beach). See the complete listing at BlackBook Guides.

Find out first about the latest openings and events in Miami by signing up for BlackBook Happenings, the email brought right to your inbox every Monday. And download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

Valentine’s Day Dinners Your Girlfriend Will Love

Alright, the photo has nothing to do with what I’m about to say, but I couldn’t resist. Guys…it’s time to impress. You know you’re getting nothin’ Valentine’s Day night if you don’t put together a satisfying romantic night.  And while homemade dinners are quaint, these six NYC restaurants guarantee 100 percent excellence and no dishes to clean afterward. You’re in, you eat the best food, you hold hands across the table, and then you skip back to your apt ASAP for some good lovin.’

Louro: This recently-opened spot in the West Village wins “most creative” with their six-course, $85 menu inspired by The Beatles most iconic love songs. And yes, though the connection between a dark chocolate brownie sundae for two and the song “Here, There, and Everywhere” is a bit tenuous, that does not stop me from making it a must-attend event. Inside-info here.

Market Table: This cozy spot on Carmine St. abounds with terracotta floors, brick walls, sleek wood tables, and dishes that are market-fresh. And seeing as their entrees are usually in the $28-$32 range, their special four-course, $55 menu on the 14th is pretty irresistible. Menu commonly includes dishes like braised shortib ravioli, duck with pistachios and butternut squash, Maryland crab soup, and chocolate sea salt pot de crème. Inside-info here.

Perilla: As Top Chef’ first winner Harold Dieterle’s West Village restaurant, Perilla is a brunch and dinner knockout. It’s the classy, understated spot that doesn’t need to boast.Their three-course, $65 menu includes their top dishes, like the Hampshire pork belly, spicy duck meatballs, grilled black grouper with andouille sausage, andtheir heavenly, salted caramel chocolate beignets.Excuse my drool. Inside-info here.

Hakkasan: This Michelin-starred, high-class Chinese spot in Hell’s Kitchen is the king of the prix-fixe: Seven courses. $98. Get ready for dishes like roasted Pacific cod with Rosé Wine and egg white, seared scallop with sweet mango in sweet basil and peanut dressing, and chocolate orange with marshmallows and chocolate crumbs.  Come hungry, leave perhaps too full for nooky, but you’ll make it through. Inside-info here.

BLT Prime: This Gramercy steakhouse offers a special Valentine’s menu spotlighting fried Kumomoto oysters, aged sirloin from Rosencrantz Farms, goat’s milk ricotta ravioli, and wild salmon. Inside info here.

Mas Farmhouse: Named after the French word for what it resembles: a country house. Paneled wood and stone walls, fresh flowers, farm-raised poultry, cheeses, and veggies – all overseen by a James Beard chef. One the 14th, treat you and yours with a four-course, $120 dinner. Inside-info here.

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San Francisco Opening: Hakkasan

As restaurants morph into global brands, excepting Nobu, it’s hard to imagine a greater juggernaut than Hakkasan. To wit, the once nouveau bringer of avant Cantonese cuisine has made the jump from London to Miami to Dubai to Mumbai. Now Hakkasan arrives in San Francisco, a city arguably jaded to every level of Asian food, so the bar is set preposterously high.

And once again aiming for Michelin plaudits, this SF outpost expectedly proffers the brand’s intersection of serious dining (Black Truffle Roasted Duck, Stir Fry Lobster in XO Sauce) and theatrical interiors, this time a reputed $10 million stunner by venerated designers Gilles & Boissier. Indeed, sexy, latticed dining areas and an illuminated cobalt bar imbue this Hakkasan with a distinctive, futuristic drama.

The Best New Restaurants in the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean

So much has happened in the past few days. From Hurricane Sandy to the presidential election to that sloppy nor’easter, it feels like we’ve all aged about ten years in a week. To combat our sudden oldness, it’s best to embrace something young and new. No, not a scandalous affair, silly, or at least not just that. We’re talking about a trip to one of the hottest new restaurants in the world. BlackBook global openings editor Ken Scrudato has scoured the world for the greatest tables in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, St. Barths and more, deliving a dynamite roundup of the most exciting and innovative places to stuff your face. Places like Denver’s Al Lado (pictured), chef Richard Sandoval’s latest Latin-style tapas spot, and Moscow’s impossibly chic G Cafe. So click on over to Hot New Tables for November 2012 and start making reservations before the next life-altering disaster hits. 

Get Down With 2013’s Michelin-Rated Restaurants

This week restaurants around the city celebrated the release of the 2013 Michelin Guide. One of the best features about this prestigious tome is their “good cuisine at reasonable price,” Bib Gourmand section. For the Bib Gourmand, they consider restaurant that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Here, they don’t offer stars, but getting mentioned in the guide is enough for many eateries. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about our mention in the Michelin guide,” said Speedy Romeo chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich. “I really see the guide as an honest measure for a restaurant rating, so, it means a lot to me to gain their respect.”

Aside from Speedy Romeo, highlighted this year include Gran Electrica, Pok Pok, and Battersby, which was also voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite magazine. It also appears to be the golden time for Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine. Not only did chef and co-owner Justin Warner winFood Network Star a couple months ago, but the restaurant has their second notable mention in the Michelin Guide.

In Manhattan, notice went to August, Il Buco Aimentari & Vineria, and Danny Meyer’s Untitled. There were also quite a few Asian places in the guide including Family Recipe, Jin Ramen, Yunnan Kitchen, and Uncle Zhou in Queens. With the one-star awards, the Asian trend continued with Café China, Hakkasan, and Jungsik at the top of the list.

On the higher end of things, three Michelin stars went, unsurprisingly, to eateries including Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and La Bernardin. There was one astounding twist; out of seven venues, one award went to a non-Manhattan restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. See folks, Brooklyn is rising. Just wait until it’s all outer boroughs and ramen joints.

New York Opening: Hakkasan

The restaurant that first taught Londoners back in 2001 that Asian food can be utterly life-altering (as well as bank account-altering). A couple of Michelin stars and Dubai and Miami outposts later, Hakkasan’s celebrated mod Cantonese cuisine has finally found a home in NYC.

Located along a rather noir-ish stretch of 43rd St., stepping inside is nevertheless like entering a fantastical glamour bubble. Indeed, the 11,000-square-foot space houses a marble entrance hall, a long bar, the Ling Ling Lounge, and elegantly sexy dining areas separated by intricate Asian lattice work. Chef Ho Chee Bon, who has done time at Moscow’s Turandot, mixes Hakkasan classics (Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne and Chinese honey–yum!) with dishes conjured from locally-sourced ingredients. The Hakka cocktails are a must.

Midnight Mixologists: Tommy Merolla’s Toplist

Thomas Merolla has been mixing cocktails that transport his patrons beyond an average bar experience, and is currently developing his innovative ideas as the Mixologist and Creative Director at B Bar at the Betsy Hotel in Miami. Check out Tommy Merolla’s favorite spots to grab a cocktail in Miami, after the jump.

B Bar at the BetsyLiving RoomThe Florida RoomSra. MartinezSoleàHakkasanSunset LoungeClarke’sMercaditoCafeina Lounge

See more Midnight Mixologists toplists here.