retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Okay, here’s how I feel about the Theo Epstein situation.

Not that you asked, but I am in a sharing kind of mood.

As you may know, after the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox this season, the Red Six decided to part ways with their manager, Terry Francona, and their general manager, Theo Epstein - both of whom were instrumental in the two world championships that the Sox won during the last decade.

Now, to me the reasons for the departures don’t even make sense. It is certainly possible that Epstein dropped the ball when it came to acquiring the right personnel, and that Francona lost control of the team. I suspect that the reality is far more complicated than that, but it doesn’t really matter - one of the things about these kinds of jobs is that they tend to have an expiration date. People move on.

Epstein and the Red Sox currently are said to be in negotiations with the Chicago Cubs over the possibility that Epstein will join the Cubs front office. And for those of you who may be unfamiliar with this storied but unlucky franchise, it needs to be pointed out that the Cubs have not won the World Series in 103 years. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, by comparison, it had been a mere 86 year drought.

I hope Epstein goes to the Cubs. And I hope, though this does not seem likely, that he brings Francona with him.

Here’s why.

I have long said to my won, and anyone else who will listen, that if I were a major league ballplayer, I would move heaven and earth to play for the Cubs. Even if I could make more money elsewhere.

The thing is, even if the Cubs would pay me less than another team, it is unlikely to be that much less. Even the worst professional baseball players make an awful lot of money. (Trust me on this. Sometimes they all seem to be wearing Mets uniforms.) And the Cubs of 2011, as it happens, had the sixth highest payroll in baseball.

But the chance - however remote - to be on the Cubs when they wins the World Series? That, to coin a phrase, would be priceless. It would be the opportunity to be part of something historic. To be part of the city’s lore. To really make a difference.

That would be something.

I hope that Epstein goes to the Cubs, and then I hope that at least a few free agents decide to do whatever they have to do to go to the Cubs and be part of history.




I got several food-related emails this week, requesting information about where I’ve been eating during this trip toe Pacific Northwest.

I’m happy to share.

But first, let me get one thing out of the way - which is to respond to the email I got asking me to go to legendary Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon, and provide some sort of review.

To be honest, I don’t eat a lot of doughnuts anymore. However, I am nothing if not responsive to requests from the MNB readership. It is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

So I went to Voodoo and had chocolate and glazed old fashioned doughnuts.

And, because I felt it was important to have context and comparisons, when I was in Seattle two days earlier I stopped by Top Pot doughnuts and had the same thing.

Here’s my verdict: I think Top Pot is far superior.

Now, doughnuts are a personal thing. But I just found Voodoo’s doughnuts to be way too dense and heavy - I ate two, and I felt like I’d swallowed an anvil.

Two Top Pot doughnuts, on the other hand, while hardly health food, left me both satisfied and buoyant, and not feeling so in need of a Lipitor chaser.

So there you have it.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.




As for my other NW culinary adventures....

In Seattle, I enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Cuoco, the new Tom Douglas Italian restaurant in South Lake Union, located in the same building as his Brave Horse Tavern (previously raved about in this space). I had an excellent Gnocchi, made with butternut squash dumpling, chanterelle ragu, hazelnut, and sage. (I’ve had a weakness for gnocchi since the first time I had it, after I stumbled into a little hole in the wall restaurant in Venice back in 1979. The waiter took pity on me, served me tons of it with plenty of red wine while teaching me to pronounce the name.) But the thing I really loved at Cuoco was the appetizer - poached eggs served in a spicy tomato sauce, with crispy prosciutto and parmigiano. It was to die for. And the wine, of course, was robust and excellent - the 2006 Villa Travignoli Chianti Rufina "Riserva.”

My first night down in Portland, I went easy - I went to the Deschutes Brewery in the Pearl District for Happy Hour, and enjoyed a terrific Sloppy Joe and washed it down with a Deschutes Green Lakes Organic Amber Ale. It hit the spot, and I walked back to the hotel with a spring in my step.

The next night, however, featured an outstanding meal, as a friend took me to a restaurant called Beast, where there are two large communal tables and a set menu - no substitutions, no special requests. And all I can say is...Wow!

The menu is almost beyond description, but let me just say that the Lobster and Tomato Bisque, served with Tarragon cream was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten my life; and the main course of milk-braised local Sylvies Valley veal breast, stuffed with ground veal, chantrelles and kale, and served with glazed carrots and baby leeks, was magnificent. There were all sort of other little plates coming and going, and, for example, I fell in love with the quail egg served on toast. It was an extraordinary meal, with each course paired with wonderful wines - my favorite probably being the 2009 Ransom Wine Company Cattrell Vineyard Pinot Noir. But they were all fabulous.




Finally, I have a movie for you to see.

The Way is a new, independent film starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, that is well worth your time and attention.

The plot is simple. Sheen plays a California opthamologist who learns that his son, played by Estevez in flashbacks and dream sequences, has died while making a spiritual pilgrimage along the the Camino de Santiago, a route that takes thousands of people each year - all of whom are seeking some sort of individual peace or revelation - from France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain

Sheen’s character, a skeptic/agnostic, goes to France to claim his son’s body. But then, compelled by some need that even he does not understand, Sheen decides to make the pilgrimage himself, to walk the hundreds of miles, carrying his son’s ashes, scattering them along the way, which is a way of honoring his son’s memory and perhaps even understanding this man with whom he’d had a troubled relationship.

I’m not a spiritual guy, and I’m even less religious. But I found that The Way spoke to me in an unexpectedly profound and even spiritual sense. There is something about watching Sheen’s character evolve from restless discontent into something simpler, something peaceful, even joyous, that I thought was just so unusual for an American film; it was a subject about which I knew nothing in advance, and yet by the end of it, I felt that it was a story that needed to be told. Even though it is just about a guy walking, with no fights, no romance, no explosions, in the end, The Way suggests that the best special effects are the heart and the soul.

The supporting cast is excellent, the cinematography is beautiful, and the writing manages to be poignant without being maudlin or sentimental. The image that stays with me is of Sheen’s character, gripping the box containing his son’s ashes as if it were life preserver, trudging over mountains and fields, searching for something even he cannot define ... but that, in the end, comes down to a kind of salvation.

I was moved. I think you may be, too.




That’s it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday morning.

Slainte!
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