by Annette Hinkle
Ask anyone who’s lived out here for a while — getting through the winters on the East End, both physically and socially, can be a challenge. But thanks to “Phao’s Prose With Spirits,” an event this Sunday featuring a curious merger of saké and poetry, it looks like January will end on a warmer note than expected.
The event is the brainchild of Ryunosuke Jesse Matsuoka who manages Sen and Phao Thai Kitchen, two restaurants that sit side by side on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Though the winter dining business, notes Matsuoka, has been busy enough, his goal is to get people out of the house for something a little different.
“Over the years I’ve been coming up with ideas to spice up the off-season,” says Matsuoka.
That’s where Andrina Wekontash Smith comes in. Sunday’s event features a tasting of three sakés (Matsuoka’s specialty) combined with a poetry writing session led by Smith, a poet and performance artist who works at Sen.
“Andrina has amazing talents,” says Matsuoka. “She’s one of my hostesses and through her work, I’ve really noticed that she can talk pretty good. So I thought we might as well utilize it. She’s shown me her work and it’s amazing stuff.”
Smith likes the idea of creating art in a casual setting and she hopes the saké will encourage people who might otherwise be too shy to share their words to open up and give it a try.
“The winters out here can get so dreadfully boring. This is a way to get people out of the house and interacting,” says Smith. “I have great disdain for pretentious art and I want everyone to have an opportunity to do poetry. I’m creating three distinct poems about all three sakés. I’ll be the first one to read, so people can feel comfortable with exposing themselves.”
“I’ve also asked customers to bring in poetry they would like to share,” adds Matsuoka. “It doesn’t have to be about saké, but it should be focused on spirits.”
In addition to providing people with a creative outlet, Matsuoka also sees the event as an opportunity to provide participants with basic saké knowledge they can put to use in the future.
“In America, a lot of people order by the color of the bottle,” says Matsuoka. “People don’t know what they’re looking for. I’ll give them basic information so they understand what they like.”
“We’ll taste three sakes, they’re all pretty different,” he adds. “There’s Tozai or Snow Maiden, a nigori sake, which is unfiltered and is very creamy — almost like half and half. Then we go on to Taketenjin or Shrine of the Village, my favorite saké. We’ll also taste Momokawa — the only organic saké we carry – which is made in Oregon.”
Though it’s known as rice wine, saké is actually fermented in a process more akin to beer production. The different grades of saké are determined by how much of the original rice grain is shaved down to produce a stronger concentration of sugar to starch to alcohol and come with names like Junmai, Honjozo, Junmai Ginjo or Junmai Dai Ginjo.
“That’s one of the things I want to highlight in the poems,” grins Smith after Matsuoka rattles off a myriad of terms, “the jargon used in Matsuoka’s Saké 101 and the feelings people get that can be incorporated in the poems they create.”
“We’ll let the spirits do their job — relax and bring the artist out in all of us,” says Matsuoka. “Which is why we thought this would be a hit in a town like Sag Harbor. There are so many artists and beautiful minds out here that would love something like this.”
“Phao’s Prose With Spirits” is Sunday, January 31, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Phao Thai Kitchen, 29 Main Street, Sag Harbor. The cost is $38 per person. Call Sen at 725-1774 to reserve a seat.
Above: Andrina Wekontash Smith and Ryunosuke Jesse Matsuoka with saké at Sen.