Dinner Party

Dinner Party

Vivek Surti guides you through a meal at Tailor

Words by Ashley Locke
Photos by Zoe Dannenmueller 

“I’m not a chef. I’m a home cook who enjoys throwing dinner parties.” That’s how Vivek Surti describes himself—and it's his love for hosting that makes his restaurant, Tailor, unlike any other.

Surti, a first-generation immigrant, grew up in Nashville. He was raised in a family that loved cooking and hosting. He has fond memories of his mother and grandmother making dinner together every night. Though they ate plenty of traditional Indian dishes, they also added Indian flair to other meals they made—pizza with a chickpea flour crust, or lasagna with garam masala. “They didn’t use recipes,” he said. “They just made things to taste.”

According to Surti, the restaurant couldn’t exist anywhere else. “The hospitality that exists in Nashville is second to none,” he says. But it’s also about his relationship to the local community. “Eric from Bells Bend Farms—his purchase of the farm, getting married, and having a kid brought me and my restaurant there. We don’t just support local businesses—we are part of the fabric of their life.”

When you make a reservation at Tailor, you pay for your meal—including tax and gratuity—in advance. It’s one way that Surti makes the dining experience stress-free. The menu, which changes seasonally, is set. As each course is delivered to your table, Surti tells a story about the farm the food came from, about his family, and about Indian culture and history. “It’s important to me to give context to the dishes,” said Surti. “When people think of Indian food, they often think of curry or Tikka Masala, both of which are British. India holds one-sixth of the world’s population, but most people don’t know anything about the food, even though its influence—black pepper, for instance—is all around us. Holding onto this food helps to create a new discussion around what American cuisine is.”

Let’s Eat!

Join Vivek Surti for a meal at Tailor

“Thank you all for coming to Tailor. My name is Vivek, and I’ll take some time to tell you about the restaurant, the first couple of dishes, and then for the next couple of hours, y’all can just sit back, relax, and eat and drink the night away. Tailor as a restaurant opened a little over two and a half years ago. The name comes from all of my grandparents who were tailors by profession. Here, we just try to treat the restaurant like coming into a friend’s home for a dinner party. The fun part about it is that when it comes to the food, you don’t have to make any decisions. Snacks are on the table, food starts coming, and in between each course, we’ll come and explain every dish. So, that way, if there’s anything you have a question about, don’t worry about it—because by the time we get there, we’ll tell you everything you need to know. If you need anything throughout the evening, we have the entire team at Tailor to help out. 

Courses 1 and 2

“Our first snack on the table is one that is representative of the style of food we serve. We call it South Asian American. So, I am a first-generation American whose family comes from India. And traditionally, when you go to an Indian home, you’re always greeted with snacks and a glass of water. Typically in the summer, that snack is a piece of fruit. So, here we start with some Sugar Baby watermelons that are marinated with lime juice, salt, and red chili powder. 

From here we’ll roll into the first course in the summer menu. Of course, summer in Tennessee means tomato season—so, this is our version of the tomato salad. On the bottom is a little chutney that is made with tomatoes and peanuts, then there’s an heirloom tomato that’s marinated with sumac, fennel seed, and pink peppercorn. We top it with a roasted cherry tomato, and then the garnishes are Tukmaria, which are bloomed basil seeds. We made an oil from tulsi, which is holy basil, and then it’s finished with sliced fennel and dill flowers. From there we’ll kind of roll through the rest of the menu. There’s a couple more veg dishes, and then fish, rice, meat, and dessert. Again, if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. Our goal is to make sure you leave happier than when you came through this door. Thank you so much for joining us–we can’t wait to serve you the summer menu tonight. Welcome to Tailor.”

Course 3

“I hope you guys enjoyed the salad. From here we’re going to roll into the second vegetable dish. This dish is called corn bhel. Bhel is this genre of street food in India. The fun part about the street food is that it is just unabashedly flavorful. It’s got all these different flavors and all these different textures going on, which make it really exciting. Here we make a summer version, which is made with peaches and creamed sweet corn, as well as some roasted Zephyr squash. Blanched dragon beans as well as yellow wax beans. We make two different sauces for it. One sauce is made with cilantro and mint—it’s a little herby and spicy. The second sauce is made with tamarind, so it’s sweet and sour. We toss all of the vegetables together with both of the chutneys, and we top it with corn poha, which are dehydrated, fried corn flakes. Then it’s topped with a little bit of fresh cilantro.”

Course 4

“Here we are rolling through the third vegetable course. This one is called Pav Bhaji. Growing up, we used to go to India every other year to visit my mom’s side of the family. After that long flight to Mumbai, there were certain dishes that I just had to have immediately upon landing. One of those dishes was Pav Bhaji. Pav means bread, and Bhaji is this little vegetable mixture. So, what we do with the bread—we actually make the bread here in-house. They’re delicious little potato rolls. We’re really trying to start the soft bread revolution over here, because last year was the year of sourdough—but we’re trying to just forget that last year even happened. So this year we’re going to just start fresh with these soft little pillowy potato rolls. They’re served with Bhaji, which is this little vegetable mixture that we make with onions, carrots, eggplant, potatoes, and cauliflower. They’re all cooked down, and then we add a good amount of butter in at the end because my dad always tells me that the difference between a good Bhaji stand and a bad one is that the bad ones are very skimpy when it comes to the butter—so we add a lot of it in here. It’s served with a little salad made of onions, lime juice, and cilantro. You can open the bread up and stuff it with the mixture, and eat it like a sandwich, or you can rip pieces of the bread and dip it in the Bhaji. Either way, it’s delicious. Please dig in, and I hope y’all enjoy.

Courses 5 and 6

These dishes feature black cod we get from the Pacific Northwest. We get the fish in whole, so we’re actually going to use every part, and we’re going to use it over the next two courses. The first dish is the loin of black cod, which is very slowly roasted. We do that to accentuate the buttery texture of this fish. It’s brushed with an oil we make with turmeric and black pepper, and then also some crunchy spices—so coriander, cumin, and nigella seed. It’s served with purple hull peas which are made the way my mom always made them for us growing up. She used lots of onions, garlic, tomato, and cumin seed. It’s all finished with some squash blossoms. 

After wrapping up that course, we’ll move on to the next one, which is a pulao. So, pulao is a seasoned rice dish. We make it with basmati rice, onions, fenugreek seed, and fresh ginger. Then there are some golden raisins, a little bit of cod belly, and it’s topped with a poached egg that has some crispy onions on top. 

Course 7

Now we’re moving on to the entrée part of the meal. This is a little bit of beef we get from our friends at Black Hawk Farms. It’s up in Princeton, Kentucky, just about an hour north of here. There they raise American Wagyu, which is this cross between American Black Angus and Japanese Waygu. The cut we use is called bavette, which is just one of my all-time favorite grilling cuts. The texture is very similar to skirt steak. So, what we do is we marinate it with a lot of ginger, garlic, green chile, and cilantro. The steak is grilled, and then we serve it the way we like to eat in the summer—with a fresh vegetable salad. The salad has cucumbers, some hot and sweet peppers, and roasted onions. The dressing is made with Thai bird chili, lime juice, and shallot oil. The whole thing is topped with toasted ground basmati rice powder. I hope you all enjoy the next dish!

Course 8

This year has been one of the best strawberry years we’ve had in probably the last five or six. We bought as many strawberries as we could, made them into preserves, and mixed those preserves with cornmeal to make cake. On the bottom, there’s a little bit of homemade yogurt, which was sweetened with homemade strawberry syrup. Then there’s an obscene amount of peaches, because they’re never better than they are right now. We toss them in a little sugar that’s seasoned with orange thyme, then top it with toasted pistachios, and finish it with marigold flowers. The reason we use marigold is because in Indian culture, whenever there’s a guest of honor that comes into your home, they are always greeted with a garland of marigolds. Here we put marigolds on the dessert as a way of saying, thank you for coming and joining us tonight—and also, now that you’ve been here, welcome to the Tailor family. So, please dig in, and after this, we’ll also come out with a little bit of homemade chai, which is my dad’s recipe. Thank you so much for coming in.

Tailor is currently moving to a new Germantown location. Watch for its grand re-opening in early 2022!