Cafe Water Should Be Renamed Cafe "Ramen"
Café Water on the corner of Water and Pine looks like a run-of-the-mill deli in almost every way — hot bar, salad bar, Wall of a Thousand Beverages, etc. — but tucked away in the back corner is a Lunch’er’s dream: A made-to-order ramen soup bar. For $5.95 you get a steaming quart of ramen-y goodness that you think you won’t be able to finish.
Oh, but you’ll finish it. And an hour later you’ll find yourself slumped over your keyboard, comatose but happy. Good ramen from a deli? Believe it.
As I type those words I can hear Zach’s eyebrows rising in disbelief, and just like midtown, downtown’s generic delis don’t have much about them to recommend. But this ramen really is a stand-out. Everything is cooked right before your eyes with fresh veggies and good meat and served so piping hot that I’ve burnt my mouth more than once in my eagerness to chow down.
Now, before you get any crazy ideas, these guys aren’t hand-rolling noodles back there. They’re using standard store-bought “ramen” packets so the noodles themselves are unspectacular to say the least, but they make up for that shortcoming in other areas. Every order gets a generous helping of vegetables — carrots, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and broccoli — and the broth is really well-seasoned.
And really well-salted. If you’ve got sodium issues, this is not the ramen for you. I also suspect our old friend M.S. Glutamate is hanging around as there is definitely a nice umami tang happening. But there’s broccoli in it, right? How can something with broccoli be bad for you?
And as if the presence of broccoli here didn’t tip you off, this place is in no way part of the new super-authentic Japanese noodle trend. Chris is actually the Japan expert, but I know enough about “real” Japanese ramen to assure you that this isn’t it. I don’t think that’s a mark against it in any way, I just don’t want to hear any whining about how “this isn’t really ramen.” Call it whatever you like, I think it’s tasty. A noodle by any other name…
There are some decisions to be made here. First you’ve got to pick between chicken, beef, vegetable, seafood, or kimchi (this last one’s high on my To Try list). Then white, medium, or spicy. And finally egg or no egg. I do spicy chicken ramen with egg. If you’ve never tried egg in ramen, I highly recommend giving it a shot. It doesn’t turn the whole thing into egg drop soup or anything, but gives it a nice extra protein-y kick.
Also, know that when they say spicy they mean spicy. Going the medium route here is no cop-out. The spicy broth leaves your Styrofoam cup bright red, so it’s probably not going to do great things for your insides if you have a sensitive stomach. If you like it hot, however, you’ll be a happy camper.
With the soup season upon us, this ramen is a great bet, but there’s also a lot more to try at Café Water. The kimchi ramen seems intriguing, they make tofu soups that look really good, there’s quality-looking sushi for relatively cheap, and the hot bar is always bustling. I’m planning some return visits, but for now, here’s your +/- on the ramen.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Every order is freshly made and served piping hot.
- You get a big cup of soup for small amount of money.
- Plenty of veggies and meat in each serving make for a filling lunch.
- Great seasoning and serious spiciness mean this isn’t your standard deli noodles.
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The noodles are limp and lame. If they’re going to use packet noodles, could they at least not overcook them?
- I don’t like salt and MSG and this tastes like lots of both. I feel like I’ve been pickled.
- Has anybody heard of authenticity? This cup of soup may taste good, but traditional ramen it is not.
Café Water, 79 Pine St. (btw. Water+Pearl), 212-785-1320