Monday, November 16, 2015

Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage, Los Angeles

Right before Halloween, I visited Los Angeles on a recruiting trip, to speak on a panel at UCLA hosted by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Women's Association of Computing Machinery (ACM-W) groups.  Next next day, I visited the Google Venice office, where I had the great fortune of stumbling into the office Halloween party.  It was epic (I swear, I didn't plan this).

Yes, we all know that I like my sweets, so you likely aren't surprised to hear me raving about a Halloween party.  But, Google Venice did something entirely unexpected.  They didn't have a standard Halloween party with candy galore.  In fact, I saw no candy at all.  Instead, they had the party catered by Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage.

I don't even begin to know how to introduce this one, so, I'll just use their own wording.  Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage makes  "Gastro Tank Gourmet Sandwiches and Desserts".  That cleared it up, right?

You know I don't really like sandwiches, so why would I be excited about this?  Well, the "sandwiches" turn out to be composed of a "Savory Brioche Donut + Nitrous Foam + Torched Topping + Finishing Oil".   Say what? Um ... yes?

They make both savory stuffed and topped donuts (dubbed Savory Gastro Tanks) and sweet stuffed and topped donuts (Sweet Gastro Tanks), plus salads, individually tossed and topped with foams (Chop Shop Salads).  We only had the donuts, both sweet and savory at the event.

All of the items are "Assembled On Site By Skilled Gastro Mechanics".  Yes, not by cooks, but mechanics?

Are you intrigued yet, because, I certainly was.

Short version?  Fill 'R Up put out an impressive lineup of both savory and sweet tanks, and I'd certainly love to try their creations again.  Plus, such a crazy unique offering.

The Setup

Fill 'R Up Gastro Garage doesn't have a retail store, instead they offer catering and do some popups around town.  They arrive with a large staff of said mechanics, which turns out to be necessary, as you'll soon see.  Oh, and lots of equipment.  (Or maybe, "tools"?).  This whole thing is a production.
Props.
The donuts require a lot of ... stuff.  Props, tools, equipment, whatever you want to call it.  Nitrogen tanks, blow torches, helmets, goggles, foam canisters, finishing elements ...

Some were necessary for the actual production of the donuts.  Others, like the helmet sitting here, were clearly just for show.  And they did put on a pretty good show.
Busy Mechanics!
Since these donuts require so much work, a staff of at least 6 mechanics were on hand, each working a different station, all in unison.
Necessary?
Sometimes they put on helmets.  I think these were for show.  Also for show?  The times they randomly had torches blowing giant flames into the air.  But hey, what's a party without some fire?
The menu: 3 savory and 3 sweet options.
Our hosts picked 3 savory (one vegetarian) and 3 sweet options from the extensive menus that Fill 'R Up can provide.

While waiting and watching the action, I eagerly read the menu, excited to see our options.

Savory:
  • Filly Tank: Aged Sharp White Cheddar Foam + Torched New York Strip + Caramelized Onion Puree +Truffle Salt
  • Cubano Tank: Gruyere Foam + Torched 12 Hour Slow Roasted Pork + Applewood Smoked Ham + Mustard Caviar + Dill Plank
  • Piston Pizza  Tank: Mozzarella Foam + Torched Shredded Mozzarella + Tomato Basil Puree + Fresh Basil  + Maldon Salt (vegetarian)
Sweet:
  • Campfire Tank: Double Chocolate Foam + Torched Marshmallow Pillow + Graham Powder + Milk Chocolate Chunk
  • Apple Pie a La Torch Tank: Sweet Vanilla Bean Foam + Cinnamon Apple Puree +  Torched Sharp Cheddar + Graham Powder
  • 1 Eyed 1 Horned Flying Purple Google Eater: Vanilla Bean Foam + Torched Purple Cream Cheese Frosting + Red Velvet Crumble + Pecans + Crema
I stopped reading the menu after the very first one.  The Filly.  Hmm.  This sounded familiar, and not because it was a deconstructed Philly cheesesteak.  The night before, I had dinner at The Bazaar, a José Andrés restaurant at my hotel.  On the menu there was a "Philly Cheesesteak", which they describe as "air bread, cheddar, wagyu beef".  I didn't get one myself, but from my research, I knew what it was.  The "air bread" is stuffed with cheddar espuma, and topped with very thinly sliced wagyu beef and caramelized onion puree.  The "Philly Cheesesteak" is a signature dish that has been on the menu since The Bazaar opened.  This "Filly Tank" sure sounded similar, except with a brioche donut instead of "air bread" (which I consider an upgrade), aged sharp white cheddar foam rather than fiscalini cheddar espuma (basically the same thing), and New York Strip rather than Wagyu (downgrade). They both even have the caramelized onion spread on top with the beef.

It turns out, the founder of Fill 'R Up used to work at the Bazaar, and most definitely took inspiration from that dish, after watching so many patrons react so positively to it.

In addition to the selections we had at our event, Fill 'R Up makes a slew of other varieties, including a decadent sounding Rolls Royce Tank, filled with béarnaise foam, and topped with garlic poached lobster tail, crème fraîche, and caviar.  So many possibilities, you really can stuff about anything into a donut, it turns out.

Assembly in Action

After admiring the setup, it was time to watch the "mechanics" in action.  Each "tank" took a ridiculous amount of assembly.

The donut shells arrived pre-cooked, but everything else is done on-site.  The steps seem to go as follows:
  1. Inject the donut with flavored foam.
  2. Torch the top of the donut to warm it.
  3. Torch individual topping components (if necessary).
  4. Assemble, adding on multiple layers of toppings, generally including purees from squeeze bottles.
  5. Torch the whole thing.
  6. Add garnishes (oils, salts, etc).
Injecting Foam.
Step one for all donuts is to inject the foam filling, which come out of standard whipped cream dispensers.  Each donut had its own flavor of foam.
Torching New York Strip for Filly Tank.
Next, some varieties require toppings to be individually torched, like the New York strip for the Filly Tank, as you see pictured here.
Torching the smoked ham and mustard for the Cubano Tank.
As did the smoked ham and mustard layer for the Cubano Tank above.

The marshmallow for the Campfire Tank got a similar treatment.
Assembling the Piston Pizza Tank.
After being stuffed, and having the toppings prepared on the side, assembly begins.

Here, the cheese and sauce are added on top of the already stuffed Piston Pizza Tank.
Torching the top of a Piston Pizza Tank.
Once fully assembled, there is more torching to be done.

Here, the mechanic melts the cheese and warms the sauce on top of a Piston Pizza Tank.
Final Step: Basil Garnish for the Piston Pizza Tank.
Once the final torching is done, the assembly still isn't over.

Afterwards, the Piston Pizza tank has chopped basil added as a garnish.  Others have similar garnishes or finishing oils drizzled over.
Final steps of finishing off the Cubano Tank.
The Cubano Tank is topped off with a "pickle plank".

In front of this mechanic's station, you can see the red velvet crumbs and pecans ready to top off the "1 Eyed 1 Horned Flying Purple Google Eater", and chives for the Filly Tank.  In the orange squirt bottle is creme for the 1 Eyed, and in the other, mustard for the Cubano.  So many elements!

The Results!

So, after all that work, how are they?

All feature soft, fluffy, brioche donuts.  The donut isn't particularly sweet, which makes sense since it is used for both the sweet and savory creations.  While clearly donuts, these weren't too oily or heavy feeling.  All very good vehicles for all the ridiculousness inside and out.
1 Eyed 1 Horned Flying Purple Google Eater (left), Filly Tank (right).
"Aged Sharp White Cheddar Foam + Torched New York Strip + Caramelized Onion Puree + Truffle Salt."

I started with the savory Filly Tank (right).

Inside was aged sharp white cheddar foam, which while savory, didn't really have much cheese flavor.  I expected a bit more from aged sharp cheese.  I also somehow expected it to be more cheesy, oozing cheese, even though I realize it was foam, not cheese itself.

The New York Strip was very thinly sliced, with several slices laid on top.  The quality seemed decent.

I didn't taste any of the caramelized onion, but there was definitely a tiny pop of truffle on the finish, which I really liked, particularly with the donut.

Overall, this variety was interesting, but not nearly as flavorful as I expected.

"Vanilla Bean Foam + Torched Purple Cream Cheese Frosting + Red Velvet Crumble + Pecans + Crema."

I moved on to a sweet offering, the one created just for Google, the "1 Eyed 1 Horned Flying Purple Google Eater".

It was pretty awesome.

The foam inside was sweet.  I didn’t taste vanilla bean necessarily, but it was sweet and frothy, pleasant.

The cream cheese frosting took over the flavor, which was not a bad thing.  The amount of frosting was more than generous, but it was quite tasty.

On top of all that were bits of red velvet cake, crunchy pecans, and a dot of orange crema.

Definitely my favorite of all the varieties I tried.  Basically a sweet stuffed donut married with a cupcake?  Yes please.  Nothing to criticize here at all.  Move over cronut, this is a far more successful mashup of two well known baked goods.
Cubano Tank.
"Gruyere Foam + Torched 12 Hour Slow Roasted Pork + Applewood Smoked Ham + Mustard Caviar + Dill Plank."

Once I was ready for anther savory round, I went for the Cubano.  (I never tried the Piston Pizza, as, well, even I couldn't eat 6 filled, topped donuts, and that sounded the least exciting).

This one had a gruyere foam inside, which had a lot more flavor than the aged sharp white cheddar in the Filly.

On top was tangy mustard, a slice of ham, and a really generous layer of slow roasted pulled pork.  It was too porky for me, but that is to be expected.  I'm not a huge fan of pork products (besides bacon).

What I was a fan of however was the pickle.  It was delicious. (Yes, I'm raving about a pickle, when reviewing crazy donuts.  It was that good!).

I liked this more than the Filly, since the cheese foam had more flavor, and I loved the pickle, but I still didn't love it due to the pork, which is definitely just my own preference.  I heard many others proclaiming this one their favorite, as they jumped right back in line for another.

The savory concept for the tanks definitely does work, and I'd gladly try other varieties.
Campfire Tank.
"Double Chocolate Foam + Torched Marshmallow Pillow + Graham Powder + Milk Chocolate Chunk."

I obviously needed to finish on a sweet note though.  I opted for the Campfire rather than the "Apple Pie a La Torch".

This was obviously a play on a s'more.

Inside was double chocolate foam, which was good, but not very rich nor chocolatey.  I wanted more chocolate flavor.  The foam is a fun texture, but, like the cheese in the Filly, it seems like not necessarily the best filling, since foam can't really carry that much flavor.

The "marshmallow pillow" on top was good (and perhaps the only element of any of these that really made sense to be toasting in the first place?)

I didn't actually taste the graham powder in the description, I'm not sure where that was.

On top was a single rectangle of Hershey's chocolate ... torched.  I thought the torching would just make it melty, which it did, but it also made it taste burnt.  Not smoky, but actually burnt.  A bit too far in the "campfire" direction for my taste.

Still, my second favorite overall.  Clearly, I like my sweets.
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