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Tenaya cooks with forked tongue

The handsome mountain lodge-type structure -- rendered from river rock, Colorado ledge stone, and cypress timbers and paneling -- is filled with assorted spears and arrows mounted on the walls. Rawhide window coverings hang from metal curtain rods fashioned in the shape of long arrows. In a raised section near the ceiling stands a sculpture of an Indian Chief -- Tenaya maybe -- with an arrow locked in his flexed bow. A few feet away, a previously launched arrow is imbedded in a ceiling plank.

"We picked the name Tenaya just pretty much because we like the ring of the name," admits Jourde. "We're not trying to put ourselves aligned with any one group of people. We were very interested in the culture and heritage of the American Indians. We just kind of like American Indians in general."

This is the level of enthusiasm that led Tenaya to offer daily wild game specials. The one we tried was, I guess, a Native American version of surf and turf. It included grilled marlin in a creamy, rich seafood-saffron sauce and an elk chop in a sun-dried blueberry cabernet sauce ($28.95). The dense fish was flavorful, but was perhaps overwhelmed by the richness of the sauce. The firm elk was grilled exquisitely rare, with a black-red ruby center and a rich, gamy -- but not unpleasant -- taste, a flavor somewhat thwarted by the sweetness of the sauce. Jourde says they've also served a wild game mixed grill with rabbit, elk, and...kangaroo.

What? No dried rabbit on a stick? Tenaya's Indian touches are all theme, no food.
Jon Lagow
What? No dried rabbit on a stick? Tenaya's Indian touches are all theme, no food.

Details

Monday-Friday:
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday:
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday:
11 a.m.-8 p.m.

(972) 550-1122

$$-$$$

525 Meadow Creek Drive, Irving

Wild game specials, like all Tenaya entrées, come with a choice of two sides from a selection that includes stuffed tomato, baked potato, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, and grilled vegetables in a maize husk. Stuffed tomatoes, fruit that has its insides scooped out and sautéed with bread crumbs and spices before it's transplanted, sprinkled with cheese, and broiled, was a bit mushy and pasty. Grilled vegetables in a maize husk -- jicama, carrot, and squash -- were tasteless. So was the rice pilaf. And it seems odd here that there wasn't at least a prick at Native American dining authenticity by including American wild rice, the seeds of the long-grain marsh grass that grew near the Great Lakes and were harvested by the local Indians. It's a little like developing a French restaurant that serves meatloaf and Vienna sausages with little French flags in a Jell-O mold. But this might be Tenaya's subtlety skirting the top of my head.

That subtlety also shows up in the Cajun salmon ($10.95, lunch), a thing that doesn't seem as Cajun as it does Caribbean, at least if flavor has anything to do with it. The fish is carpeted with a sweet mango chutney of onion, pineapple, and bell pepper. But at Tenaya, what you call it is more important that what it actually is. Still, the fish proved moist, flaky, and tasty, though the accompanying vegetables -- cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, and onion -- were virtually flavorless and were either undercooked and hard or overcooked and mushy.

Slices of house-cured pork tenderloin ($17.95) with apple-raisin chutney were smoky-sweet with firm crust and moist meat and a good portion. And the apple crisp ($5.95) was warm, chewy, and good.

Jourde says that a land and real estate developer, whose name he would not reveal, owns Tenaya. It turns out the owner is Jeston W. Alley, of Tenaya Investments Inc. He also operates a company called Shoshoni Development Inc., and he plans to expand the Tenaya concept to Atlanta; Denver; Seattle; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Orlando or Naples, Florida.

Hopefully, in these places the thematic thrust will be more lucid, because the strategy of locking a restaurant into such an abstract concept is difficult for the untranscended to grasp. It's a little like the quintessential Grateful Dead fan, a twitching dervish who gets off on himself getting off.

Yet in reality, the idea of a Native American theme restaurant that largely eschews Native American cuisine is not a nagging problem. "We got the plank salmon. We got the wild game. I don't know how much more we need to do," defends Jourde. "When I go to Outback Steakhouse, they don't have kangaroo on their menu. But we got it here."

Can anyone say Champagne of beers?

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