Journey Jotters

Bitten by the travel bug

One of the star attractions at Caddo Lake is a sunrise or sunset tour on the Lake. The serene waters of the cypress swamp allow fiery orange sunsets to be captured amidst cypress silhouettes. I’m sure you’ve seen many such iconic photos of Caddo Lake. So we set out to do a tour during our long weekend at Caddo Lake.

Sunset at Caddo Lake

Dottie’s Spatterdock website had a few recommendations for such tours. We chose Pat Collins from Mossy Brake Camp Swamp Tours. I wanted to do the sunrise tour, but he wasn’t offering one that weekend. He ran a general tour at 8 am and a sunset tour at 630 pm. So we booked the latter instead.

On the evening of the tour, we drove to Pat’s address which also happens to be his home. The backwaters from his home lead to the Caddo Lake swamp. Pat owns a comfortable pontoon boat with a flat bottom that moves silkily along the waters. Large enough to house at least 8 to 10 people and smooth enough to allow great photography, the boat gave all eight passengers adequate space to stand and admire the Lake, take photos, and not be in each other’s way.

The boat for the sunset tour

After a quick trip to the outhouse, we walked to the slip, where we piled into the boat individually. Our family sat in the back, although I might choose the front seats the next time. One of the gentlemen stood the entire trip, shooting photos, which sometimes meant we couldn’t enjoy the scenery at the front of the boat. 

As we settled down, Pat gave us all the safety instructions and we made our way to the main Lake. Caddo Lake swamp covers 26,000 acres of bayous, wetlands, and backwaters. Pat pointed out a beaver dam, home to one of the resident beaver families. There are about six hundred varieties of dragonflies in the area!

Pat pointed out the bald cypress with its knobby knees and Spanish moss overhangs. He also talked about the other trees that grow in the area, including pawpaws, maples, loblolly pines, giant cane, and sweet gum. The last is used for lumber, and its sap has medicinal uses. He also pointed out the American beautyberry shrubs, which help to repel mosquitos.

Placid Caddo Lake

Although not apparent at first blush, Pat pointed out several lily and lotus pads. We couldn’t identify them since the flowers close shut after about 2 pm and bloom again in the morning sunlight. One way to tell them apart is that the fragrant white lilies grow at the water level, while lotuses tend to rise above the waterline.

We learned that Caddo Lake is the tenth most gator-infested Lake in the US, although we didn’t encounter one. Oil was discovered in the area in the early twentieth century, but drilling wasn’t initially possible due to the wetlands. So the waters of the Lake were dammed, and the world’s first offshore oil well drilling began. To this day, several rigs can be seen, typically on the Louisiana side of the Lake.

One of the biggest problems facing Caddo Lake is the invasive species of Giant Salvinia, an aquatic fern native to South America. Having first arrived at Caddo Lake in 2006, the invasive species has taken over vast swaths of the Lake. The fern doubles in size over 4 to 10 days and is spread by boats exposed to infested waterways and by birds. The Caddo Lake Giant Salvinia Eradication Project is ongoing and uses a multipronged approach: weevils, carp, pesticides, etc. Pesticides are sprayed six times weekly to stop the spread, although eradication so far hasn’t been a viable option.

One of the interesting features that Pat led us through was the Government ditch, an artificial canal dredged by the Corps of Engineers in the 1870s. This canal provided a shortcut for steamboat traffic to Jefferson and allowed a shorter journey for cotton shipping between Texas and Louisiana. The ride through the ditch felt like navigating a majestic tree-lined avenue.

Majestic government ditch

One of the tour’s many highlights was seeing an osprey and its nest, we also saw a couple of cranes. But the piece de resistance was the breathtaking sunset turning the still waters orange. The cypress trees stood outlined, eerily dark sentinels, against the vibrant setting sun. One doesn’t have to be an expert photographer to capture some terrific images here. After taking several shots, as the sunset deepened, it was time to put away the phones and cameras. It was time to luxuriate in the sheer joy of witnessing such a glorious sunset. This sunset tour was such a soul-satisfying experience!

Glorious sunset, Caddo Lake

After nearly half an hour of enjoying the setting sun, we turned back, passing Johnson’s Marina, the oldest inland marina in the state. Lots of people crowded the shores, enjoying a relaxing evening. Back at Pat’s home, he expertly guided the boat back into its slip. We paid him in cash for his tour and left.

It was dark by the time we left, there was no cell service on the way back, and street lamps did not illuminate the roads for several miles. Luckily, Sonny JJ remembered our route, and soon we were turning onto the road to Taylor Island. I recommend downloading the directions if you plan to do this tour.

Sunset Tour, Caddo Lake

Sunset at Caddo Lake is a memorable and cherishable experience. If you still need to do so, visit Caddo Lake and enjoy a unique sunset!

For our stay at Caddo Lake, we spent the weekend at Spatterdock Guest Houses, owned and operated by Dottie Carter. A native of the Uncertain area, Dottie owns six guest houses on Taylor Island. She also lives on Taylor Island. One of the reasons I booked here was an opportunity to explore Dottie’s creativity and talent. She has several art installations scattered across her property that are unique and whimsical. She and her friend decorated several VW cars and also created many mosaics.

The Gallery, Spatterdock Guest Houses, Uncertain, Texas

The guest house we chose was called The Gallery. A two-story building that can house twelve people, the first floor has three bedrooms and two and a half baths. All three bedrooms led off the main hallway from the entrance and were spacious enough. The bathrooms occupied the other side of the hallway. One bathroom had a clawfoot bathtub with a dragonfly motif decorating the walls. It led to an outdoor shower, definitely one of the home’s unique features. A smaller hallway off the main led to the living room, dining area, and kitchen. A large screened-off porch ran along the outer edge of this part of the first floor.

Bedroom at the Gallery

The living room had a large sofa and loveseat with a coffee table at one end and another couch in the middle. Further in, a large counter with barstools framed one boundary of the kitchen. It had a small dining nook, a cooking range, and a fridge. The kitchen contained basic kitchen utensils, pots, and pans. A rolling cart held a microwave, plates, and bowls. The shelving above held the most extensive assortment of Campbell soup mugs I’ve ever seen!

Living room, dining and kitchen at the Gallery

The screened-in porch had several chairs and rockers for a relaxed evening.

Screened-in porch at the Gallery

Off the small hallway were the washer and dryer. From the living room, steps led upwards to the second floor where there were more beds to sleep six, a kitchenette, and a bath with shower. The balcony off this floor offered a fascinating view of the cypresses and an obstructed view of the Frog Town garden below. Several mosaic stepping stones wound their way around this distinctive garden. To me, the charm of the Gallery was in the surrounding trees and the fresh tree aroma around us. It was captivating!

Frog Town Garden at the Gallery

The decor of the Gallery was warm and comfortable. As one guest had put it, the cottage reminded them of being at their grandma’s, a feeling that completely resonated with me.

Over the next couple of days, we took every opportunity to see the scattered art installations. The thematic presentations were very detailed, inventive, and very tastefully done. It would take a very carefree spirit to create such unique pieces, and it is a testament to the bold and joyful spirit of the owner.

Mosaic art at Spatterdock

Enjoy some of the photos of Spatterdock Guest Houses in Uncertain, TX. Do you know how the name of the town came around? When the articles of incorporation were filed, the area’s residents had not agreed upon a name and filled in “Uncertain” for the town’s name. And the name made it into the official books.

Creative VW art at Spatterdock
Lost Dog Pier access at Spatterdock

While the Gallery was huge for a party of three, it was the only guest house available when booking. But we appreciated the space very much.
If you’re in the Caddo Lake area, spend a night or two at the Spatterdock Guest Houses.

Memorial Day weekend, the JJ family spent a relaxing 48 hours at Caddo Lake. Situated about 200 miles southeast of Dallas, close to the Louisiana border, Caddo Lake is named for the Native settler tribe who fished, farmed, hunted, and traded there. 

Tranquil beauty of Caddo Lake

The Great Raft blocked the Red River, an expansive 100-mile-long logjam created by years of riverbank erosion and toppled trees. The blocked river and rising water levels eventually made new lakes and river tributaries. One such Great Raft Lake is our Caddo Lake, one of the few natural lakes in the state. The wetlands at Caddo Lake have been designated wetlands of international importance. 

The Great Raft logjam was eventually cleared in the 1830s using snag boats, and the Red River became a transportation and economical highway, allowing many small port towns in Texas and Louisiana to mushroom and grow. In the 1900s, oil was found under Caddo Lake, which was dammed to raise water levels and allow drilling equipment to be installed.

Caddo Lake State Park

We chose the Spatterdock guest houses in Uncertain, Texas, for our stay. Owned and operated by Dottie Carter, these guest houses could accommodate various family sizes. But for me, the bigger draw was the whimsical displays and artwork of the owner. The guest houses were also in a great location, less than ten minutes from the Caddo Lake State Park and the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Our drive to Uncertain was uneventful. The rest of the drive was comfortable except for Friday evening traffic when leaving the Dallas area. Now that he has a license, Sonny JJ was the designated driver for the trip, and he did a fantastic job chauffeuring us. It was a milestone; our kids now drive us places on road trips. It seems to me time has sprouted wings and flown away!

Dottie’s email had asked us to call and make alternate arrangements if we were unable to get in by 2 pm. Since we had a late start, we left a message asking for details on check-in, etc. But the cell reception on the way could have been better, and we couldn’t contact her. However, she awaited on her porch and asked us to walk into our guesthouse. The door was open, and the house was ready to be used.

I will post about the guesthouse we stayed in separately. In the first hour, as the skies darkened and night settled in, we explored the big home and the upper floor’s open deck. Surrounding by extremely tall cypress trees, the air felt so fresh and pure that it made me delight in taking huge lungfuls! The backyard with its frog-themed garden beckoned, but the light quickly faded, so we postponed it to the following day.

View from the pier

The house came with a full-size kitchen, and we made a quick dinner of sandwiches and fruits that we had carried.The following morning, Mr. JJ and I walked past Dottie’s home, Wildfern, to the pier behind it; we stopped to explore the garden en route. The pier access, called Lost Dog Walk, is very unique.

Surrounded by more cypress trees and the wispy Spanish moss that blankets a lot of these trees, we stood on the dock as the morning sun rose over the tranquil waters. Two jetboats sped by, creating layers of waves in the otherwise placid waters and running the silence of the morning. We caught lilies opening up next to the dock.

Bald cypress trees can sometimes live for 1000 years or more. So-called because they shed their leaves early in the fall, the base of the trees flare outwards and provide stability in the soggy soil. They are surrounded by knobby knees that rise in the water and nourish the plant by supplying oxygen to the roots. Spanish Moss is not a moss; it’s an epiphyte, a plant that grows on others but isn’t parasitic. It obtains its nourishment from the air around it.

Walking back, we climbed the tree house that Dottie had built and sat there, taking in a bird’s eye view (so to speak) from up top. We stopped to enjoy an artfully decorated glass canoe hoisted up among the trees, ensuring we paid close attention to all directions around us. After checking out the bunkhouse along the way, we visited our backyard to enjoy the frog-themed Frog Town garden. Right next to it was a recreation area with a table tennis table and a large table with chairs. We enjoyed a couple of games of table tennis before heading back.

Dottie’s canoe art

We had carried breakfast with us and enjoyed that.

Soon, we set off for the day’s first trip, a visit to the Caddo Lake State Park. Built around Caddo Lake, the Park is small and was not crowded (at least not by Dallas standards) for a long weekend. We saw people carrying in their canoes and kayaks to have fun on the Lake.We chose to hike the loops around the Park: four small loops totaling about three miles; most were rated moderate but didn’t feel that hard.

I enjoyed reading the display boards along the path, pointing out the bald cypress, loblolly pines, great canes, etc. Did you know that loblolly pines are the most widely grown pine trees in the Southeastern US? They are among the earliest to develop after a hurricane or fire and may achieve as much as 50 feet in 20 years! Their seeds provide food for small animals and birds. Display boards are a great wealth of information!

We stopped briefly at the timber and stone shelter along the trail. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 857 in 1934-35, the structure stands intact, a monument to the beauty around us and a testament to the CCC program that brought employment to so many under FDR.

We headed back to the guesthouse past noon, stopping at the Caddo Outpost on the way. While they offer breakfast, lunch, and desserts, we bought basic groceries for pasta and sandwiches. Our neighbor at the adjacent guesthouse had enjoyed dinner at the Outpost the previous night. A young couple enjoyed their lunch while we shopped, and they seemed to be happy with their meal.

After eating a late lunch at the guesthouse, we relaxed the rest of the evening until time to do a sunset tour of Caddo Lake with Patrick Collins from Mossy Brake Camp Swamp Tours. It was a memorable evening on the Lake. Sunset photos of Caddo Lake are majestic and a must-do while in the area. I will share a separate post on the tour.

Sunset tour of Caddo Lake

Sunday morning, we made our way to the dock again and enjoyed another visit. Then we visited the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Situated across the road from the State Park, this was only a slightly longer drive from our guesthouse. The entire area was deserted, including the main visitor center. Parking our car in the visitor parking lot, we walked for about a mile along the perimeter of the Refuge. There was no one else on the trail but us. The hike was easy, but after a mile of running into cobwebs and being chased by bees, we decided to turn back.

Once back on the road, we took the auto tour, which was probably the best way to view the entire Refuge. Our focal point that day was the Starr Ranch Pavilion by the Lake. The lotuses and lilies by the dock just added to the beauty of the sundrenched tranquil waters. With barely a person or two in sight, standing on the pier and gazing at the blue waters, warmed by a golden sun and surrounded by a verdant treescape, it was a fitting finale to our short trip.

Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge

This short weekend getaway to Caddo Lake was a perfect way to relax and unwind in the great outdoors among splendid beauty!

Join us tomorrow to see the creative haven called Spatterdock guest homes, where we lodged!

As mentioned in my previous post, I was in New York City in February and had a chance to explore locally. One of the ideas I came across was to visit the garden at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, located on 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue. It was the middle of winter, the garden was indoors, and admission was free! Of course, I had to look it up!

Ford Foundation Garden with reflecting pool

After walking the High Line that morning and grabbing lunch, my travel partners and I took an Uber to the Ford Foundation. The Foundation has a multilevel garden and a Gallery that are wheelchair-accessible. The wheelchair entrance is on 42nd, whereas the lobby and Gallery access is from 43rd Street. Admission to both the garden and the Gallery is free.

The Ford Foundation website states they are unrelated to the Ford Motor Company. For the last 80 years, “the Ford Foundation has invested in innovative ideas, visionary individuals, and frontline institutions advancing human dignity around the world.” The Foundation has extensively “worked in civil rights, education, arts and culture, human rights, poverty reduction, and urban development.” Read more about the work of the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice here.

After walking into the lobby from 43rd Street, we descended the steps to the garden, a veritable sea of green! Tall windows several stories high shone sunlight into the atrium. The high roof of the building dwarfed several tall trees and vines. While the garden is not immense, seeing a verdant landscape in a city full of skyscrapers is striking! There are over 40 different species of trees and plants in this garden. And it takes a gardener from an outsourced company working full time to keep this place looking as incredible as it does, all year long!

Dwarfed by tall trees in the Ford Foundation atrium garden

We enjoyed the section with several aromatic herbs like mint, lemongrass, lavender, etc. This area is for people who are vision impaired or blind and has braille signage. Walking further down the step-like garden, we reached the reflecting pool at the base. While not forming a dense canopy, it was still impressive to look up and be embraced by vigorous plant growth in the middle of winter in New York City. It felt like a balm to be cocooned in the lap of nature, even if it was all manmade. While we mostly saw green foliage, a few trees and plants were blooming, beauties of pink and white.

White beauties at the garden

After spending more time in the garden, we were ready to visit the Gallery but were told it was closed. A new exhibit was being installed, and it would reopen in April 2023. What a bummer!

If you haven’t already, visit the garden and the Gallery at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice! It’s a soothing getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.

The Ford Foundation is located at 320 E 43rd St,New York, NY 10017. And is open Monday to Saturdays (when an exhibit is ongoing).

New York City has been synonymous with the High Line Park since I first read about its existence in 2012. Taking an out-of-use freight line track and redesigning it into a multi-use public space struck me as clever, resourceful, and ingenious. In 2015, when the JJ family visited New York City, we spent a couple of hours at this park. It was still in progress then, but we enjoyed the concept.

The High Line in winter

A couple of months ago, I was in New York and had some time to explore on my own. Now that the High Line was complete and fully open, I wanted to revisit the park. Missy JJ spent a summer in NYC last year and thoroughly enjoyed her weekend walks here. It was a beautiful morning, with blue skies and golden sun, and the perfect way to enjoy a winter morning in the Big Apple. My travel partners were eager to explore the High Line with me.

The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. According to the history on its website, the original freight lines in this part of the town ran in the middle of the streets, causing multiple accidents and fatalities. The problem improved by adding men on horseback carrying red flags and warning pedestrians about approaching trains. But eventually, the idea to elevate the train tracks gained ground. In 1933, the first such freight train became operational. Over the next 30 years, it served the Meatpacking District carrying tons of meat, dairy, and produce.

As the trucking industry took over, the need for these trains reduced and eventually ground to a complete stop in the 1980s. In disuse and denounced as an eye sore, there were many calls to demolish the tracks. On the southernmost side, a section of the line had already been demolished in the 1960s. It was but a matter of time before the rest were to follow.

NYC Love Mural along the High Line

In 1983, local residents explored the idea of preserving the structure and converting it for alternate use. At this time, Congress passed the Trail System Act making it easier to convert old rail lines into recreational areas. As the years progressed and debates and discussions ensued, Nature did what she does best: allow plants to grow in wild abandon. In 1999, Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit conservancy, was formed to advocate for maintaining the High Line and repurposing it for public use. In 2003, they hosted an “ideas competition.” Over the next couple of years, the area of the High Line was rezoned as a public park.

A team of architects and designers was chosen, and the project began in 2006, with the first portion completed in 2009. Since then, High Line Park has continued expanding to its 1.45-mile-long journey. In addition to functioning as a public green space, it boasts commissioned art pieces. Many public programs, such as stargazing, TaiChi, fitness classes, and community engagement projects and performances, occur here regularly.

To this day, the High Line admission remains free. The park is open from 7 am to 10 pm most of the year. Public docent-led tours (three times a week) and some private tours are available.

On the day we visited, there were no public tours. We started at the Gansevoort Street entrance, walking up the stairs to join the elevated tracks. The balcony here marks the southern end of the demolished trail line. Few people were strolling along. The rail tracks were embedded in the walkway, with the vegetation on both sides stripped bare during winter. We walked further to find pieces of artwork, including the “Women and Children”, a group of bronze sculptures by Nina Beier. The figures have drilled holes for eyes through which water streams and had turned to ice!

Art work at the High Line

Further down, we walked past the 14th Street passage, where films are shown in summer. The Overlook at 10th Street was quite remarkable. This amphitheater-style seating is fully wheelchair accessible and is perfect for people-watching. It hosts performances during warmer months. We stood here for a few minutes taking in the steady flow of traffic below us.

Next up were the 22nd Street seating steps made of reclaimed wood. The location was perfect for stopping and sunning ourselves in the early morning light. Across from the steps was a mural, “NYC Love” by Nina Chanel Abney, invoking NYC’s iconic sights, sounds, and smells. Just past this, we stopped to watch Windy, a tornado-inspired sculpture of black foam by Meriem Bennani. At the 26th Street viewing area, we had to walk around the filming crew of some well-known food critic. Since the place was crowded, we didn’t stop to visit this deck.

Windy, art installation at the High Line

Near here, we also peeked into the bronze binocular art called Observer, Observed by Julia Phillips. We took turns looking through the binoculars, only to have a nearby LED screen transmit images of our eyes captured on screen. Were we the observer or the observed, or in this case, both?

At 30th, the path suddenly turns sharply to the left, and the trail runs east-west. This area was wider than the rest of the track. The Freedom’s Stand artwork sits here, showcasing headlines from various Black Newspapers. We walked to the end to get a view of the Hudson River. On the way back, we entered the Hudson Yards area and were immediately captured by the unique Vessel.

Vessel at the Hudson Yards

The Vessel is a spiral staircase with 154 flights of stairs and 80 landings, all interconnected and offering a different view of the City. I read that the Indian step wells inspired the concept. At the time of our visit, only ground-level access was allowed and was free, and we took advantage of it to exclaim over such a unique piece of architecture. Then we walked outside and enjoyed a frontal view of the structure before walking down 34th Street and enjoying some murals on the way.

Once back on the High Line, we noticed the crowd had considerably thickened. We heard people conversing in several languages, many unknown to us. People of all ages were on that track that morning, paying tribute to the brilliant idea of repurposing a beloved structure and allowing Nature to lend a hand.

Of course, since it was winter, the trees were bare and the grass brown and dry. But one look at the photos on the website shows what brilliance of color and profusion lay hibernating beneath. I am sure the wildflowers in many colors and the verdant green of trees and bushes will add an aura of magic to this beautiful place.The High Line has elevator access at four locations and stair access at various points. Pets are not allowed on the trail. Although owned by the City of New York, the park is run on the funds raised by the Friends of the High Line. The organization is also responsible for maintaining and operating the High Line.

The High Line in winter

Walking the High Line is not about the distance traversed but rather enjoying the arduous journey the freight line tracks have undertaken. Where they have been and where they are ready to go. The question is: are we?

In February, I traveled to New York City for a few days and stayed at the Sheraton Times Square. The day I visited Ichiran for lunch was also the day I got to experience gourmet dining at Indian Accent, New York. The Michelin Guide references this as one of the thirteen best Indian restaurants in New York. Chef and owner Manish Mehrotra has added unique twists to well-known and authentic dishes to create a new menu ensemble.

Potato sphere chaat, white pea mash

It was one of the coldest days in NYC when my travel partners asked if I wanted to join them for dinner at the Indian Accent. One of their family members highly recommended it. It was also a short seven-minute walk from our hotel. My friends called for a reservation and got one for 10:15 pm! We had nothing else to do; it was too cold for us Texans to be out and about. The thought of hot, spicy Indian food was far too tempting to let a late-hour reservation kill the joy of eating.

After a brisk walk in the cold evening, we made it to the cozy interiors of the restaurant. Past the entrance, the waitress immediately greeted us. Our table was ready. We walked past the bar to the left of us and a row of diners at tables on the right to enter an inner room. Our table was in the middle and surrounded by smaller tables on all sides. The ambiance was muted but tastefully done. The low hum of conversation and clinking tableware caught our ears.

Our menu at Indian Accent, NYC

Our waiter informed us that since we had chosen to reserve a table, we had to order a four-course meal. Patrons at the bar could order a la carte. At $95 per person, the dinner wasn’t inexpensive by any means. Between the three of us, we could order 12 dishes, including appetizers, mid-course, mains, accompaniments, and desserts. We ordered different dishes to get a broad taste of the menu and shared each one.

For appetizers, we chose the sweet potato shakarkandi with crispy okra and starfruit, the potato sphere chaat with white pea mash, and the pulled jackfruit phulka. The mild sweetness and softness of the shakarkandi were complemented well by the crunchy okra. The chaat I enjoyed much with the green and tamarind chutneys. I didn’t care much for the pea mash, although one of my friends liked it. The pulled jackfruit was different in its texture. I haven’t eaten much raw jackfruit before, so I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sweet potato shakarkandi, starfruit and crispy okra

We ordered the smoked eggplant bharta cornet with goat cheese mousse and the tofu masala with shishito peppers from the mid-courses. I am not a big fan of bhaingan bharta, but the dish’s presentation in the mini cones made the experience unique. I wolfed down the cornets. The tofu was well-cooked and added a touch of Asian flavor, and the shishito peppers were a great addition to the dish.

Bhaingan Bharta in a cone?!

For the mains, we chose wild mushroom kebabs with morel pulao and winter truffles, kadai paneer with stuffed sweet peppers, hearts of palm, sweet potato, and sweet corn/garlic scapes vadai with quinoa and Kerala moilee. The first option was loaded with morel and winter truffles, some of the most highly prized edible mushrooms. While I only care a little for the texture of mushrooms, I actually enjoyed these kebabs. The pulao was perfectly cooked, with each grain of rice separate and not overdone. The stuffed peppers were good but didn’t stand out in my mind. The vadais were well done, soft on the inside and crisp on the outer, and paired well with the moilee. It was reminiscent of Kerala cuisine with its rich use of coconut-based gravies.

Wild mushroom kebabs and morel pulao

The wild mushroom kulcha with truffle butter, green pea, spicy potato kulcha, and black dairy daal with naan rounded out our accompaniments. The mushroom kulcha was good, but I still enjoyed the kebab version to the kulcha. The other breads were fine, but the daal was rich and spiced just right. 

The grand finale came with the arrival of our dessert: makhan malai, saffron milk, rose petal, jaggery brittle, and almonds. It looked splendid, to begin with, the rose petals and brown jaggery contrasting with the yellow malai. Not too sweet but airy and light, the softness of the dessert was frequently broken by the crunchiness of the brittle or the almonds. It was the perfect way to end the evening!

Makhan malai with adornments

Since we were in the last reservation slot of the evening, most of the other customers had left before we could finish. But the staff remained patient as we chatted through the dinner and delighted in our dessert. After the customary photos and rounds of good nights, we walked out into the freezing evening, our hearts and souls warmed by the excellent food and company. The 10:15 pm slot was definitely worth the wait!

Sweet corn and garlic vadai with quinoa and Kerala moilee

In February 2022, we visited Junoon, one of the most well-known Indian restaurants in NYC. The ambiance was more sophisticated, the service, while slightly more formal, was excellent, and the price more expensive. Of course, the food tasted outstanding. Indian Accent, by comparison, was a bit more relaxed; the decor was muted and the service was still very good. But ultimately, the creativity was more apparent here, and I had a good time exploring different options.

I can’t wait to return to NYC and try a different menu at the Indian Accent with Mr. JJ next time!

Indian Accent has a sister location in New Delhi, India.

A couple of months ago, our friends, the K family, asked us to join them for dinner at Cafe Madrid. Being foodies, they’re constantly looking to explore the Dallas restaurant scene. And since I have a Spain trip later this year, it felt a good way to become familiar with the tapas offerings in Dallas. Knowing how much the Spanish love meat, Mr. JJ and I initially hesitated. But a quick look at the menu offered some vegetarian options, so we decided to go. Our friends reserved a table.

Cafe Madrid, Dallas

Cafe Madrid is located in the Highland Park area. The restaurant was very lively. We walked into the main room, packed with small tables, European style, and a bar. Two other rooms lead off from that one. They were all packed with customers. The host led us immediately to our table, close to the bar and in the middle of the room. Conversation flowed around us as the waitressing staff walked up and down all night long.

Our waiter suggested ordering at least three tapas each. We chose the mixed olives trio, the patatas bravas, the queso frito con ceballo y miel (fried goat cheese with honey and caramelized onions), grilled shishito peppers (I didn’t find this on the menu today), and espinacas pirineos (sauteed spinach with pine nuts).

The fried goat cheese was the best of all. The outside was just crisp, while the cheese was perfectly melted inside. The dish moved to another level with the caramelized onions and honey. The potatoes were less spicy than we had hoped. I enjoyed the mixed olives, but not Mr. JJ, who isn’t a big fan. The peppers were grilled well and tasty. The food was not spicy by any means. I wanted to taste the paella, but they couldn’t make it vegetarian enough to suit our needs. We settled for the saffron rice, but it was too salty and not worth the money spent. We hardly touched it. For dessert, we all chose flan that was light and flavorful.

Fried goat cheese with caramelized onion and honey

Our friends ordered sliced Jamon Iberico, mixed anchovies olives, chorizo al vino (sausage with wine), Mejillone con azafran (mussels in saffron sauce), morcilla de arroz y cebolla (fried blood sausage with toasted bread), setas en salsa de Jerez (mushrooms in cream sherry sauce), pan con tomate (grilled bread with tomato), boquerones alinados (imported white anchovy fillets). They felt the Jamon was delectable, like candy, and was worth the price. They also enjoyed the fried goat cheese and thought the mushrooms were delicious. They said the blood sausage was perfectly spiced and one of the best they’ve ever had.


There was a lot of movement around us that evening. Which meant I couldn’t get photos of the room where we were seated. But the decor was very reflective of Spain’s matador and bullfighting culture. I enjoyed the tapas at Cafe Madrid. While I’d have preferred a spicier taste to the food, I understand this is as it’s meant to be. Reviewing the menu today, I found more options for the next visit. Warmer weather will allow us to sit outside and enjoy a Happy Hour, or we can visit on the first Friday for some flamenco. And get a small taste of Spain in Dallas! I highly recommend reserving a table before your visit.