Nick Lachey is celebrating a birthday, a new restaurant and a solid relationship with girlfriend Vanessa Minnillo. But it wasn’t always that way.

“I don’t think you can get much worse than the year before [2006],” Nick confessed last night at his Sin City restaurant, Company American Bistro. “The last year has been good. Been in the studio working on a new album. I’m excited to get that out in 2008.”

Nick and Vanessa headed to Vegas to toast the restaurant’s opening, as well as their birthdays. Nick turned 34 and Vanessa turned 27 on Nov. 9, and "Extra's" Carlos Diaz was the only reporter inside for an exclusive chat.

He continued, “2007 has been a rebuilding year for me. Music, studio, learning things about who I am as a man. I think it’s exciting. Any time you learn and grow it’s an exciting time.”

Inspiration for his last album came from his very-public split with Jessica Simpson last year. But Nick says it’s hard to say whether hardship brings out the best in him.

“It’s hard to compare one phase of you life to another,” he said. “There have been some great albums that come out of heartbreaking times – my last album.”

He added, “As an artist it’s our responsibility to draw on whatever we are going through.”

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