Famous for its inclusive breakfast and lunch menu, Silver Lake’s Millie’s Cafe sits unoccupied during the evenings. Owner Robert Babbish realized he had the perfect opportunity to welcome a new chef into the kitchen during Millie’s off hours… which is where our story begins.
Enter Of Aire, a mostly plant-based offering by Chefs Greg Arnold (of Plant Food & Wine, Mesaverde, Cortez and Sage) and Dave Martinez (of Elf and Soho House West Hollywood) that has burrowed its way into the hearts of veggie-loving east siders.
“Robert from Millie’s just called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do something on weekend nights. I wrote a menu in one day, called Dave and he came in the next day. We worked on the dishes for about five or six days and just opened with no warning or press,” explains Arnold. Arnold and Martinez, who playfully call themselves the ‘bastard sons of Sunset,’ have cooked together in various kitchens for the last ten years, so getting the chance to execute a vision that was uniquely theirs was an exciting opportunity.
“I’ve spent years opening curated ‘Instagram backdrop’ restaurants,” he continues. “The only thing we’re concerned about at Of Aire is the food and the vibe in the room. No pretension. You can bring your own bottle of wine and hang out at the counter, watch us cook, listen to Alice Coltrane and Bad Brains.”
Of Aire opens its doors from 6pm to 10pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. With no signage and no reservations, it’s almost like you’re walking into your best friend’s kitchen… if your BFF was an award-winning vegan chef who’s trained with chefs from Noma, Manresa, El Bulli and The French Laundry.
The dichotomy of Arnold’s alchemical plant-based menu mixed with Millie’s greasy diner feel is pure magic for eaters.
Take a peek at the menu — printed weekly, as the offering changes based on what Arnold finds at the Santa Monica Farmers Market every Wednesday — and you’ll see no less than 11 adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms folded into dishes like the Summer Goth Bouillabaisse, Koji Fermented Cashew Cheese Tartine and the Green Risotto.
“I am heading into a new cuisine — more mushrooms, more tonic herbs, more healing roots — and pairing them with classic technique,” says the celebrated chef. “I don’t see many restaurants that use activated charcoal, reishi, rhodiola, huacatay, chlorella, hemp and marijuana in the dishes.”
And even though veganism is trending, Of Aire isn’t your typical ‘vegan’ spot that’s trying to pass off non-meat dishes as the real thing. Nope, no buffalo “chicken” cauliflower or vegan donuts here. The menu is far more refined, falling under the category of what Arnold calls “punk rock, high vibe, ancient-modern Californian.” Summery, bright, fresh and plant-forward with subtle nods towards Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine that has a sense of humor. (The Summer Goth salad, topped with a next-level black charcoal vinaigrette, is a house favorite.)
Maybe it’s the shrooms, maybe it’s the sublime freshness and idiosyncratic flavors that blend together in surprising ways — whatever it is, you’ll leave Of Aire on a high. As word gets out about the hotspot, Arnold and Martinez remain casual and singularly focused on their mission.
“It’s really a complete labor of love — we are just two guys doing everything,” a proud Arnold admits. “It’s our little gift to the city we live in, made in our own backyard. Everything we create is an act of love and a message from us to you.”
Of Aire will be closing up its Silver Lake outpost this winter, so keep your eye out on Instagram for its next iteration. We can’t wait to see what the two chefs will whip up… but until then, we’ll just patiently wait for the day they start inviting people back to their space.