If names evoked smells, one might expect the junction of Water and Pine streets in the Financial District to be a fragrant one: a clear stream babbling beneath resinous evergreens. Though there are no pines, there is water: a pocket park across the street featuring a man-made waterfall, and Café Water, a corner deli unremarkable in all but one respect: the fetid gust of steam-table food smell wafting out of its garage-door-size kitchen vent.
At 10:45 one Friday morning, just past egg-on-a-roll hour but before cheese-steak time, the scent was of soy sauce with undercurrents of vinegar. Inside, workers were stocking a steam table running the length of the room and crowned with turrets of plastic clamshells.
The vent’s emissions were confirmed: at $7.79/lb, glossy orbs of chicken studded with sesame seeds, slayed asparagus spears festooned with a stripe of chopped pickled peppers, squirming heaps of lo-mein.
Saran Wrap rolled back over each tray gave the impression that the food was napping under a sheer blanket.
The back wall of the deli offered a vista of soft drinks behind rubber flaps. The bathroom was the kind of place where you flush with your foot and open the door with a scrap of paper towel. Café Water received a C on its most recent inspection by the Department of Health. I noticed a clip-art sign posted to the steam table. It featured a yellow armless hand (a glove?) fondling two chicken drumsticks: PLEASE DO NOT SAMPLE FOOD.