Every week, Thursday through Sunday, Vivek Surti hosts the best dinner in Nashville. The evening follows a comfortable pace: guests stagger out about an hour before service to sip a bourbon Fruit Tea Punch in a salon adorned with chandeliers and velvet.
Little by little, everyone takes their place in the main dining room, where Surti holds court over an open kitchen. Over the next two hours, a procession of eight to 10 dishes emerges, each accompanied by a short introductory story by Surti. While the guests nibble on, say, a dish of chevdoa mix of chaat-like snacks with roasted peanuts and chickpeas, he’ll talk about how his mom used to pack bags of stuff for family trips.
“I really started for friends – the goal was never to turn it into a restaurant,” says Surti. “Finally, I thought, ‘Why can’t I just find a home for my supper club so I don’t have to move it around all the time?'”
Since opening his Tailor Nashville in 2018, his “supper club” has won all sorts of accolades, not to mention becoming one of the toughest reserves in the city 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 something called a Bombay sandwich, which is bread with green chutney, tomatoes and cucumber. So we thought, How we combine these two thingsThe result is homemade bread topped with salt and cumin seeds, plus a swirling green mayonnaise of chutney, tomatoes and cucumbers.
“It’s about using ingredients that are common to both cultures,” says Surti. “If you are American and from the South, these are ingredients that speak to you. And if you’re from India, you understand the flavors and where they come from, and then how this cuisine is really, really symbiotic.
At its core, it’s about first-generation American cuisine: bold, personal, inspired by different culinary traditions, but freed from their dogma. “You’re starting to see this movement of first-generation American chefs saying, ‘Let’s serve the food we grew up on at home,'” Surti says. “There are all these places where people literally put their heart on a sleeve, their culture on their plate.”
What’s specifically on the plates at Tailor rotates once a season. When ramps are available, for example, they can end up in an electric green mash under an American Wagyu kebab served with basmati pulao, the grains smoothed with beef fat and fenugreek.
One element that never changes is the finale: an espresso-sized cup of chai at the end of the meal. Powerful and slightly sweet, it hits the back of the throat with heady notes of black pepper and fresh ginger, followed by a soft buzz of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mace, star anise, fennel seeds and coriander.
“It’s my dad’s recipe that he worked on for 10 years,” Surti says. “My parents’ life revolves more around tea. When I plan stuff with them, it’s never like, ‘Hey, we’ll meet at 2:00.’ It’s “Come for lunch and stay for the chai”. It is the constant of their day. It’s partly a ritual, but it’s also something they look forward to every day.