The General’s Daughter

Everyone loves a comeback story. All the better when it involves Kobe beef.

After years of lurking in the shadows as a solid, but not particularly innovative Sonoma institution, the General’s Daughter has been reinvented as one of the most consistently impressive restaurants in Wine Country. No easy task.

Because the only thing more difficult than opening a restaurant is trying to change the public’s perception of an existing eatery–especially when that perception is one of bridge club luncheons and wedding rehearsal dinners. (I held mine there 10 years ago.)

But with quiet perseverance over the last two years, Chef Preston Dishman has been winning over the hearts, minds and stomachs of locals with his southern take on California classics. Backed by the restaurant’s new owners, Floridians Jim and Bettie Hall, Dishman’s been given free rein over the menu, marrying southern ingredients like andouille sausage with local tomatoes, Dungeness crab cakes with creole mustard butter or goat cheese beignets. He is, after all, a Southern boy.

Dishman stops, however, well short of making the whole thing feel hokey and forced. Calling his food New American with a distinct Southern drawl, Dishman’s obvious mastery of classic French techniques serve as a solid platform for his experimentation in Cal-Ital-Lowcountry cooking.

Bottom line: This ain’t just collard greens and grits. Think foie gras with roasted peaches; heirloom tomatoes with spicy rock shrimp and basil vinaigrette; buttermilk panna cotta with blueberry gelee, brown sugar streusel and blueberry sorbet; venison with harissa spiced carrots. And, okay, West Coast shrimp & grits with andouille and Tabasco butter. (See a sample menu)
It took a plate of Dishman’s slow braised American Kobe short ribs at a recent winemaker dinner, however, to seal the deal. Swoon-inducing, the ribs were melt-in-your-mouth bits of meat and sweet sauce piled on a potato puree (more butter than potatoes, Dishman admits with a smirk) with baby spinach. Professional courtesy was all that kept me from a gushing bear hug of thanks.

Maybe next time. This comeback story still has plenty of chapters waiting to be written.

If you go: Dishman’s menu is arranged by courses, with diners selecting three ($49), four ($61) or five ($73). All menu items are available a la carte should you (and you will) want to share a few extra dishes. “Beginnings” range from salads to oysters; “The Deep Blue” showcase Preston’s skill with seafood (sea scallops with Israeli couscous, Maine lobster with potato gnocchi, tomato and mascarpone cream); “Field and Forest” (lamp chops, beef with polenta, duck breast), a cheese course and dessert (fig tart, buttermilk panna cotta, Meyer lemon crème brulee). The menu change up depending on what’s fresh and seasonal, and Dishman likes to use fresh produce from his chef’s garden at Benziger Winery.

General’s Daughter, 400 West Spain Street, Sonoma, 707.938.4004