Music and curry combine to spice up Koza

by Kluso
Stripes Okinawa

If a magic mix of exotic spices could describe the food, music, and atmosphere of a solitary bar then that unique privilege would have to go to Oto-Lab Curry + Bar + Live.

Located on Koza’s Park Avenue (B.C. Street) not too far from Kadena’s Gate 2, Oto-Lab is one of those gems hidden right under your nose that often go unnoticed until you just happen by on a weekend night and stick your head in to check out the blend of music and mystery.

Started by owner Kazuhiro Nakamura and managed by Chef Shinichi Tsuhako, Oto-Lab offers a distinctive ambience that has the feel of a ’50s beatnik coffeehouse mixed with a ’60s sense of freestyle.

“The Koza music scene is well known, but we wanted to offer a different style of club and music,” explains Tsukaho. Oto-Lab definitely delivers on all accounts.

Starting with the food, there is actually only one item on the menu – curry, the house specialty. This solo entree of wonder’s singular place of honor is well deserved.  The dish is an Indo-European-style, chicken curry which carries neither the excessive sweetness of Japanese-style curry, nor is it quite as spicy as many traditional south Asian curries.

It is delicious in its simplicity and hearty at the same time. This plate is served with extra spice dispensers so if it is too mild for your taste you can raise it to a 5-alarm rating.

Oto-Lab is also a bar and offers a customary line of beers and mixed drinks, but its forte is the vast lineup of flavored teas served both hot and cold. Chef Tsuhako recommended the peach melba or fruit garden teas as customer favorites. I tried the latter.

The fruit garden tea, served hot, carried a wonderful bouquet that matched its flavor with just a hint of sweetness. It actually accompanied the curry entree well, and helped smooth some of its added spiciness.

The music and bands are definitely different and can best be described as eclectic, with styles in the range of jazz, reggae, Latin, world, blues and others. On a recent night, Tosho Hito Tsushima, with his band The Firefly Clan performed original music that blended blues, world rhythms and Moroccan Gnawa cultural music.

Tsushima, a well known local musician and guitar instructor for Sunset Music School, brought out and plucked his camel skin covered “gimbri,” a Gnawan traditional 3-string instrument that could be a cross between a guitar, banjo and the local three-string “sanshin.”

Singing in Maghreb Arabic and creating melodies and percussion, his songs meshed in style and rhythm with band members Shinji Tanaka (guitar) and Daisuke Kawahara (percussion). As the performance continued into a second set, a mix of both local and American customers wandered in and found time to relax and enjoy the scene.

Offering live music normally every Saturday night, Oto-Lab is open from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. daily, closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.  Most music events do not have a cover charge, and the artists often play only for donations. Chinen Shidou was slated to play Okinawan-style country and folk music Dec. 2.

The easiest way to find Oto-Lab is to enter Koza’s Park Avenue and travel toward the Korinza Mall. Oto-Lab is on the right side of the street next door to Charlie’s Tacos. So, the next time you are looking for a way to spice up your weekend be sure to check Oto-Lab Curry + Bar + Live.

For more information, including a schedule of events, visit .

This story was originally published in Stripes Okinawa, Dec. 2, 2011 edition.

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