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From the Eater Lounge: Cobi Levy and Doug Akin

Throughout the Food & Wine Festival this weekend Eater is welcoming bloggers, journalists and food world personalities to our lounge, The Eater Lounge, at MILK Studios. As the peeps pass through, we're going to chat them up and spit out the dialogue here in this business, From the Eater Lounge.

2008_10_cobiakin.jpgEntrepreneurs, fashion designer, New York men about town. So how did you guys decide to get into one of the hardest businesses in the city, with the soon-to-open West Village restaurant Charles? Cobi Levy (right): Every business is the worst one—they said the same thing about fashion. We always tell people, we're quite aware how difficult this business is. You try your best to hedge your bets, partner with the right people. Doug Akin (left): There's an need out there—a lot of clubs out there, but not a lot of restaurants that appeal to our age bracket.

From when you first decided to open a restaurant, how did the concept evolve? CL: We knew what we wanted to do from the get-go. Dining in New York is an amalgam of food, service, the room, who's there. It's about the experience and you have to deliver on that, you can't just have great food. Why do you love Balthazar? It's that whole thing. So we wanted a really sexy room that you could have a good fun meal in without sacrificing food or service.

There's been some talk about the reservation policy. CL: You can look at exclusivity as a ploy or an attitude, but it's part of the experience. We're starting with a master list of people and expanding from there. But we don't want to turn off anyone who's in the neighborhood. With all due respect to Waverly, I think they go out of their way to be off-putting. I don't want that. We're doing it this way because we have 65 seats, and if there's a bad four-top, you're going to notice.

Tell us a little about the menu. CL: It's French-Med inspired. Took me back to my roots. Food's gotten way too fussy in New York. I went to Allen and Delancey last year—I like the food, but best appetizer? Bone marrow. Best main? Duck over foie gras. Uh, I'm sure the girl I brought here can't wait to get into this. DA:It's responsible cooking. Approachable food, well seasoned, well prepared. The average entree will be priced in the mid-to-high $20s.

And there is a burger. CL: It's not on the menu. We sort of went back and forth on the burger for a long time. I do love the burger. A burger can't get too highfalutin. If you can't make it half-naked and drunk during the summer, it's not worth doing. We're doing hand-cut fries, and it's a chuck burger with chard, onions, a little bit of honeycup dijon, and a Portuguese roll that Amy's Bread is making for us.

Your top five restaurants in New York City, please. CL: I will go with Balthazar, Gramercy Tavern, anything that Danny Meyer does, but especially 11 Madison Park. DA: Blue Ribbon. CL: And let's say the Waverly Inn. People want to hate on the food at the Waverly, but John [DeLucie] does a really good job.

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