Restaurateur Elizabeth Blau: My magical journey this summer to Ireland

Editor’s Note: After a glorious nearly month-long family vacation in the Italian and Sicilian countryside, Robin Leach is back and resuming his new daily columns today with a look at Libertine Social from chef Shawn McClain that opened this week at Mandalay Bay. We’ll continue guest columnists in August while Robin works from the cooler climes of La Jolla near San Diego in advance of our newly designed website launching soon.

On Friday in his debut Neon column, Robin has a preview of the Magic Live! convention here next week with 1,600 worldwide illusionists, conjurors, magicians and wizards. Today, one of his guest columns is from Las Vegas magician Doug Leferovich, who performs daily with magician Murray Sawchuck at Planet Hollywood’s Sin City Theater. Our other guest columnist is restaurateur Elizabeth Blau, who has been hailed as a magician in our culinary industry. Here’s Elizabeth with her magical journey this summer to Ireland:

By Elizabeth Blau

Summer is my favorite time of year, and our family always makes an effort to explore something new far from Las Vegas. This summer, my husband, Kim Canteenwalla, and I embarked on a trip to Ireland and discovered a whole world of incredible ingredients and food traditions that we overlooked for too long. I have been traveling to London for more than 30 years and have always loved my time there, but, before this trip, I had never ventured to Ireland, the greenest place I have ever been.

If you are looking to escape the summer heat, Ireland is hard to beat, cold and rainy even in July. It is an indescribably beautiful country, washed in a hundred hues of green and gray and blue with a proud history of agriculture and a “farm to table” ethos that predates anything in America by many centuries.

Agriculture and food are Ireland’s oldest industries, particularly meaningful when you realize that the Gaelic heritage of the island dates back to the 1st Century AD. The cheeses, lamb, smoked salmon, seafood and whiskeys were all of the highest quality but more importantly reflected centuries of tradition and pride.

We began our adventure at The Ballymaloe House, a traditional Irish country house known for owner Myrtle Allen’s celebration of traditional country house fare, preserved through the onsite restaurant and cooking school since 1964. Surrounded by walled gardens and tree-lined lanes, the environs immediately transported us from the rush of London to the serenity of Irish country life. We started the days with the best traditional Irish breakfast of our visit, complete with house-made jams, scones, Irish soda bread, farm eggs, sausage and kippers.

In the village of Cork, we wandered through The English Market, a collection of vendors selling local and organic products and home to The Farmgate Cafe. Inspired, we ventured on to Mahon Farmer’s Market, which was full of the most beautiful local produce, cheeses and meats. We had a wonderful time chatting with all of the farmers who were not only incredibly proud of their produce but also extremely friendly and glad to share their land and stories with us.

No visit to Ireland would be complete without a whiskey tasting. We headed to The Midleton Distillery. Best known as the home of Jameson since 1975, the property has been a distillery since the 1800s. After tasting our way through, I have a newfound appreciation for the complexity of the spirit and intricate blending and aging product required to make it.

Lamb is not something I usually like. In Ireland, however, I fell in love with it. The black-faced mountain sheep we saw wandering through the hillsides have a heritage going back centuries, and their diet of wild grasses and free-range lifestyle produced the most incredibly nuanced, juicy and tasty meat.

From Ballymaloe, we moved on to Sheen Fall’s Lodge in Kenmare, a stunning estate perched along the edge of a lake fed by a waterfall. Kenmare is the perfect base to explore Ireland’s famed Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula.

The village of Dingle is home to one of the loveliest cheese shops, The Little Cheese Shop, and we had a great time talking to the head cheesemaker, Maya Binder. And with all the great cheese, it should have been no surprise that there also was incredible ice cream; Murphy’s was our favorite. For lunch, a pint of Guinness and the best fish and chips you can imagine.

Our final destination, the Dunraven Arms in County Limerick is a classic hotel shrouded in ivy. While the summer weather was glorious during the day, the evening’s chill was easily avoided with delicious Irish coffee. Before our arrival, I had no idea that Irish coffee had been invented in Limerick, but, after tasting it, I have no doubt of their claim.

During the day, after a quick stop at the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, we drove to The Burren Smokehouse and were greeted with a beautiful perfume of salt air, fresh grass and smoke. The fish here are all wild caught and smoked using Scandinavian and Irish techniques, resulting in the most beautifully delicate organic salmon I have ever tasted. You can order this online!

After five days, we headed back home, happy for our new perspective on this incredible country and its storied commitment to great ingredients, craftsmanship and cuisine.

Don’t be surprised to see a couple of Irish additions added to Elizabeth’s menus at her Las Vegas restaurants (Andiron, Honey Salt, Made L.V.), although doubtful that Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro will go from Italian to Irish at their partnership Buddy V’s Ristorante in The Palazzo. Be sure to check out our other guest columnist today, magician Doug Leferovich, who appears daily in Sin City Theater at Planet Hollywood with magician Murray Sawchuck. Plus, a look at chef Shawn McClain’s Libertine Social that opened this week at Mandalay Bay.

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