Smoothies and Juices

Saeki: You — and your theory — are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?

Kafka: I know. But metaphors eliminate what separates you and me.

A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me.

Saeki: That’s the oddest pick up line I’ve ever heard.

— Kafka on the Shore, p.306-

There are just so many captivating and powerful paragraphs from this book that I want to grasp and even memorize — but that is another kind of writing for me. Right now, the whole reason why I want to brought that paragraph up was because of its mentioning of metaphors, among the constant references and inferences to literary works (the use of metaphors in literature — to be exact) in the book.

I was about to compare this café, Smoothies and Juices, to something, and naturally wanted to generalize the concept of cafes (something that goes: a café is like…), when the word “metaphors” from Murasaki’s work started echoing. That is so true what he said — we always tend to compare things and events we don’t know to what we do know. I like to think of it as our automatic defense mechanism. We are probably afraid and uncomfortable with the abstract, unfamiliar. That is why we always bring it back to the tangible, “real”. But what I learned for the past few days from Murasaki’s book is that that defense mechanism, that innate attempt of human to draw the line between what’s “real” and whatnot, is in such vain. Most of the time the things that feel so real aren’t, and the things that exist in reality feel like illusions at best. We have our definite self-containers, our bodies, but apart from that, the things that make up us don’t necessarily have shapes. And by “we” — I mean everything: human beings, animals, inanimate objects, the stars, dramas, even our own dreams. There is a physical aspect of everything, sure. But the meat of it, the part that creates meanings in our mind, semantically or symbolically, is not physical.

But, anyhow, I ramble. What I meant to say is that I decided in the end to disregard my intention to make a comparison between this café and some image or person I know — I’m just going straight to describing it and how I feel about the Café

1. Atmosphere

S&J is the definition of “love at first sight” for me. I know I’d love this place the moment I stepped inside the little space. From the balcony of Avocado Café (another café that I loved and meant to write an entry about for weeks!), I have always had a very good view of SJ, and told myself to “make sure to try it next time.” SJ looks gorgeous from the outside, green and posh, with an open porch, European-style seating and what looks like a second floor with an elegant balcony. But it also gives out the impression of an overpriced French restaurant that one can easily find in Hanoi. But as soon as I walked inside, that apparently too soon judgment vanished. SJ is even more gorgeous and lovely, in a different way, inside.

First off, the place is nothing French, at least nothing Hanoi-French. It is a concoction of bohemian-worldly decors, Spanish/Hispanic vibe, understated chic Scandinavian furniture, as well as an overall statement of a regular college-town café in America. Sounds like such an odd and messy combination, but these elements work wonder together. You know that feeling when you just “clique” instantly with someone, who you just met, yet feel like you have known this person all the while? That’s what I felt about SJ. “ahh, this is it” — I told that to myself, the moment I glanced 360 around the café in search for my first ever seating.

The spot I decided on almost instantaneously was that one seat by the window. The seat is among the lineup of chairs against the long wooden table by the glass window facing the main street. The table looks more like a study desk, for its rectangular shape and its “antisocial” position. (all other tables are round or at least small enough for group of people to sit around) I have come here four or five, times, mostly to meet with someone, but be it crowded or quite, the café always seems to have that one seat reserved for me — perhaps because it’s not exactly the most popular seat in the house. But that’s what I love the most about the seat. Whenever I go to cafes, I always sit at the corner, the best seat for people-watching. This time around, I choose a place in total opposite position — where I have the whole window to myself, and the whole “world” behind my back. If I like, though, I can always check out the reflection of things happening “behind my back” from the window. It is a large glass window decorated with snowflakes and twinkle lights. It looks towards the porch — from where one could sit and enjoy the busy street view (just like the one from the café near Kien Vang hotel in Ha Giang). But for some reason, I prefer the seat inside the window rather than outside — this time.

Like I said, the place is a concoction of many things, all of which I love. It has a touch of Spanish style, because of its display of fruits in a basket, the festive and lively painting of what looks like a creature in Spanish/Mexican Folklore on the wall, and the very fact that this place specializes in juices and tropical drinks. It looks Bohemian, almost Mediterranean, because of the line up of cushions, in different colors and patterns, against the wall, as well as the gallery-like display of picture frames on the warm bricks in no particular order.

For that same reason, the place also looks pretty chic and Scandinavian — like a fusion-styled room one would see on pinterest: the clean-cut tables and furniture, the intentional messiness, the bird cages by white glass-doors, the trendy demure color themes, and of course, the wood.

But all in all, the place looks very much like a café one easily find in America, especially in a small college town such as Providence (of course I’m thinking about Coffee Exchange), for its selection of popular American drinks, the choice of music (now: Christmas music — right off my alley), and the lovable servers.

Although quite far away (by Hanoi standard), SJ is definitely my go-to hideaway, the Coffee Exchange of Providence for me. Loved!

Atmosphere Score: 10

2. On the Menu

As part of its characteristically American style, SJ has a large selection of smoothies, juices (obviously suggested in the name) as well as coffee, teas and desserts. I’ve ordered various things so far (unlike in other cafes where I can only stick to one thing) and generally enjoyed them very much.

Of course a café is no café for me without good coffee — and the caffeine here I’m telling you is no nonsense. Like today, I ordered mocha, stupidly enough, at late afternoon, and now I’m having a headache. I’m saying it like it’s a bad thing, but it’s an indication of how strong the coffee is, which it should! I usually can get by with a medium or light coffee cup in the afternoon without troubles sleeping at night. But I know I’m going to stay up for a while until the effect of this mocha waned down.

Desserts here are great, too, although I’ve only tried their tiramisu and biscuits — but both of them are light, just about sweet enough, and closely resembling those in an ordinary American café. Also, not many cafes offer good tiramisu (including Paris Gateau), so I appreciate their rendition all the more.

They juice and mix their fruits in the cafe, so one can generally trust the quality of the smoothies and juices. My first order was a coconut avocado smoothie — and it was good. I should order more fruity drinks though — but I haven’t snapped back to my fruit-loving self yet ever since DAS.

Last but not least is their tea. I don’t usually order tea at cafe, unless it’s a very cold day or the day after I’m sick, but I’m glad it was both on that day. Their tea comes through a little pumping device that when you press the button, a little water comes right through the strainer that holds the tealeaves. Just like a fin-coffee, this device generates your tea little by little — making it both exciting and satisfying to wait. The tea tastes stronger and deeper, too.

For all of that, I’m determined to try out more things on the menu each time I come here.

On the Menu Score: 10

3. Others

I actually haven’t finished with Part 2 — but this could be counted as an extra nice thing about the cafe, among many other things:

  • Many of their drinks come with a little customary treat — a biscuit or two — which is quite lovely.
  • The main server, who I found annoying at first because he kept calling me “chi”, is quite cute — now as I think about it. He also stopped calling me as though I’m older today — which makes me feel better. I saw him play with his niece — which makes him hotter. Whats more, he puts on a pair of chic, suitable frame, has a rather shy and reserved manner yet attentive and warm vibe. He also seems smart. Maybe he is also an expat like me?
  • The music. I kept telling everyone how I missed Christmas feel, just like in America, especially with the cinnamon-filled air and the Christmas music, and this cafe seems to be the only place where I can find both. Their selection is pretty up-to-date too, not the old pieces of overused Christmas songs in Vietnam that no one listens too in America. I know — the American in me. Sigh.
  • Sunflower seeds that come in seemingly unlimited amount and two baskets (one for discard)
  • Nice bathroom, automatically lit
  • Decent prices for such a great cafe

The only thing I can think of to make this cafe not absolutely perfect (because imperfection is beauty J ) is the crowd that goes here. There are not many loners like me who just wants to come for a nice drink, a good read, a hideaway, but rather immature, trend-chasing youngsters, regular cigarettes-smoking coffee goers, or gossipy office people. That’s fine though, it makes me unique, and our compatibility (me and the cafe) even more unique. Also, I love that what suits the most for me is not something perfect, but something that feels “me”.

Others Score: 9

Summary Name: Smoothies & Juices (SJ) Address: 30 Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi Key points: fusion style, good variety of drinks, relaxing and modern vibe, great facility. Total Score: 29/30

Originally published at on December 13, 2013.

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