A tornado outbreak hit middle Tennessee on March 2-3, causing widespread destruction throughout the area—including in downtown Nashville.
Fast forward a week and a half, and restaurants like chef Vivek Surti’s Tailor Nashville had just gotten their power back and were beginning to welcome the public back to their tables and bars.
“We were just getting back to it, the whole city,” Surti says, “and then all this news about the coronavirus came out.”
With all their reservations canceled, the 11-member staff was sent home after assurances they would continue to receive their paychecks (and would hopefully all be back at work soon). “That week was the week that everything started happening; we had been practicing social distancing, cleaning more, but that was the week when state and local governments started shutting everything down,” Surti says. “When they did that, it was originally just for a few weeks. We weren’t really a to-go restaurant as it was, it’s not part of what we do and we’re not built for it. We also had to weigh the health benefits of keeping our staff at home versus the economic benefit of staying open and hoping to make a little more money.”
Before now, takeout hasn’t been part of Surti and his team’s equation. It’s hard to box up the entire experience of each one of Tailor Nashville’s eight weekly seatings, complete with a menu that honors the chef’s Southeast Asian heritage. An addictive first bite awaits guests on the table as they arrive in the tradition of Surti’s grandmother’s hospitality. Then, they’re treated to eight to ten courses reflective of his experience as a first-generation American of Indian descent and accompanied by explanations of their contextual significance. Since opening last year, the restaurant was named to Bon Appetit’s The Hot 10: America’s Best New Restaurants 2019, Thrillist’s Best New Restaurants of 2019, and Surti was a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast for this year’s James Beard Awards.
So while they were anxious to get back to their critically acclaimed service at Tailor Nashville, Surti and his team kept themselves at home, evaluating the situation weekly. Then lockdown was extended through the end of April, closing Tailor Nashville indefinitely with the entire staff on payroll through the end of June—at which time they will revisit their plans.
“Some other restaurants have pivoted to more to-go, family-style meals, some have become bodegas and it’s all very cool to see,” Surti says. “It just didn’t really make sense as a concept for us. Nashville is currently in stage one of opening up, and I still don’t feel very safe about the opening. We have to consider the health of the staff and how to execute our concept under the new necessary guidelines.”
Surti’s cautious attitude reflects what could be a new reality when restaurants begin to reopen in Nashville and across the country. Though some may be eager to continue their normal lives, it could take time before they’re comfortable eating out on a consistent basis.
“Just because people can go out to eat, say at half capacity, doesn’t mean they all will feel comfortable going out to eat. A fast-casual meal out that takes ten to fifteen minutes is different from one that takes two-and-a-half hours,” Surti says. At what point will people be comfortable having that meal? I think we’re going to get there since restaurants are such an important part of the community. If you asked people what they miss most about before quarantine, I think many will tell you it’s restaurants; going out with friends and sharing a meal and not having to do the dishes.”
To get a taste of India by way of Nashville without leaving your kitchen, try out chef Surti’s flavorful coconut turmeric marinade on pork or chicken. Pair it with Tailor Nashville’s signature bourbon fruit tea punch for a meal that’s definitely worth having to clean the dirty dishes.
Chef Surti’s Coconut Tumeric Marinade
2 lbs pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, pork chops, or chicken
5 grams whole cumin seed
5 grams whole black pepper
5 grams whole coriander seed
2 grams whole mace
2 grams star anise
2 grams whole cloves
75 grams chopped ginger
25 grams chopped Serrano chiles
60 grams peeled and chopped fresh turmeric root or 15 grams ground turmeric
125 grams coconut milk
Preheat your oven to 300F degrees. Toast cumin seeds, black pepper, coriander seeds, mace, star anise, and clove for 10 minutes until fragrant and spices have browned, but not burned. Add chopped ginger, serrano chiles, turmeric root, coconut milk, and toasted spices to a blender and process until smooth. Feel free to add 1/4 cup of grapeseed oil in order to get the blender going. Season pork tenderloin with salt all over and add the marinade to coat.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Sear protein until crusty and then move to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. When the pork reaches 145F degrees internal temperature, remove from heat, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
Alternatively, can cook pork in a 450F degree oven until it reaches 145F degrees, approximately 15 minutes.
Tailor Nashville’s Bourbon Fruit Tea Punch
6 black tea bags or 3 tbsp loose black tea
.5 cup sugar
.5 cup fresh orange juice
.75 cup pineapple juice
.5 cup plus 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1.5 cups bourbon
Brew tea in 2 cups of boiling water in a teapot or measuring glass for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags; discard. Add sugar to tea; stir to dissolve. Let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a pitcher. Add orange, pineapple, and lemon juices and 4 cups cold water; stir well to combine. Chill fruit tea until cold, at least 2 hours, or cover and chill up to 2 days.
Combine fruit tea, bourbon, and juices in a pitcher or punch bowl. Pour or ladle among 8 ice-filled glasses; garnish with lemon wheels and mint sprigs.