Tailor - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Tailor

Send your taste buds to South Asia at a sumptuous Southern dinner party. 

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Every week, Thursday through Sunday, Vivek Surti throws the best dinner party in Nashville. There’s a comfortable rhythm to the evening: guests stagger in roughly an hour before service to sip bourbon-spiked Fruit Tea Punch in a chandelier- and velvet-bedecked parlor. 

Gradually, everyone takes their seats in the main dining room, where Surti holds court over an open kitchen. Over the next couple of hours, a procession of eight to 10 dishes emerge, each accompanied by a short introductory story by Surti. As guests nibble on, say, a dish of chevdo, a chaat-like snack mixture with peanuts and roasted chickpeas, he’ll explain how his mother used to pack bags of the stuff for family road trips. 

“I really started it off for friends—the goal was never to make it into a restaurant,” Surti says. “Eventually, I thought, ‘Why don’t I just find a home for my supper club so I don’t have to keep moving it around?’”

Since opening up his Tailor Nashville in 2018, his “supper club” has won all sorts of awards, not to mention become one of the tougher reservations in town to score. It helps that his food is very, very good—and completely unlike anything else, anywhere. Raised in Nashville by Gujarati Indian parents, Surti wanted to create dishes that spoke to both his Tennessean and South Asian roots.

“For example, in the South, you have this idea of a tomato sandwich, which is white bread, mayonnaise and tomatoes,” he says. “And in India, we have a thing called a Bombay sandwich, which is bread with green chutney, tomatoes, and cucumber. So we thought, How we put those two things together?” The result is house-baked bread topped with salt and cumin seeds, plus a green chutney-swirled mayonnaise, tomatoes and cucumbers. 

“It’s about using ingredients that are common in both cultures,” Surti says. “If you’re American and from the South, these are ingredients that speak to you. And if you’re from India, then you understand the flavors and where they come from and then how this cuisine really is very symbiotic.”

At its core, this is first-generation American cooking: bold, personal, inspired by different culinary traditions, but unburdened by their dogma. “You’re starting to see this movement of first-generation American chefs saying, ‘Let’s serve the food that we grew up with at home,’” Surti says. “There are all these places where people are literally putting their heart on a sleeve, their culture on the plate.”

What specifically is on the plates at Tailor rotates once a season. When ramps are available, for instance, they might end up in an electric-green purée puddled beneath an American Wagyu kebab served with basmati pulao, the grains slicked with beef fat and fenugreek. 

One item that never changes is the finale: an espresso-sized cup of chai at the close of the meal. Potent and slightly sweet, it hits that back of the throat with heady notes of black pepper and fresh ginger, followed by a gentle hum of green cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace, star anise, fennel seed, and coriander.

“It’s my dad’s recipe that he worked on for 10 years,” Surti says. “My parents’ life, it pretty much revolves around tea. When I schedule stuff with them, it’s never like, ‘Hey, let’s meet at 02:00.’ It’s ‘Come for lunch and stay for chai.’ It is the constant in their day. It’s part ritual, but it’s also something that they look forward to every single day.”

Know Before You Go

Reservations are essential. Be sure to book well in advance.

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June 30, 2023

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