The first time we went to Kingston Station, it was by accident. Taking refuge from a rainy night, we ducked through the door and stood slack-jawed at what we saw. Where were the mai tais with the pretty little umbrellas? The trays of treats for roasting over tiki torches? The post-theater crowds chatting at candlelit tables?
Long gone. Peking Tom's doesn't live here anymore, and you know what? That's just fine. In its place is Kingston Station, a new bistro that serves excellent and reasonably priced food - even if no one is eating it yet - on a block that needs just that. (Good Life across the street is another safe bet.)
On a return visit earlier this week, we realized that Kingston Station gave us plenty of reasons to come back. Apparently, we were the only ones who felt that way as we took a seat in the completely vacant dining room. That might be a case of cause and effect, though. Kingston's bar is beautiful and inviting, cast in various hues from the wall of liquor bottles. But the back dining room isn't the warmest of places, with walls the color of eggshell, scattered patches of white subway tiles, and a blaring soundtrack that can easily quash polite conversation.
Kingston Station is supposed to remind you of a train station (that explains the giant wheel resting against the wall), but the dining room is bare to the point of looking unfinished. Surely the white doors with the wire meshing in the glass panels don't help to dispel the notion that you're eating in a clinic.
We half-expected Nurse Ratched to come and take our drink order. Instead we got a nice young waitress (gum-chewing aside) who was excited to tell us that the restaurant serves absinthe now that it's legal. Careful what you wish for: I accidentally ordered it as a cocktail (which wasn't even on the menu), and the waitress came back 10 minutes later to make sure I knew it was $20.
I opted for it on the rocks instead, paying $10 for a glass of Kubler absinthe with spring water and sugar cubes. Any hallucinations, my companions wondered? Nope, just the sensation that I had ingested 10 bags of black licorice. I quickly swapped the cloudy-colored libation for a friend's Vesper martini. "It's the James Bond martini!" he raved.
For dinner, we chose from a menu divided into salads, sandwiches, and entrees - all of which were ample enough for a meal. Our favorite was the seared tuna nicoise salad. A juicy, sliced steak sandwich was enough for lunch leftovers the next day, and pumpkin tortelloni, a ubiquitous favorite this time of year, was a surprise hit with its firm and fresh filling.
A debate ensued on whether the seared-scallops entree was over the top. On their own, the succulent scallops were sweet and lemony, but atop an even-sweeter risotto, and it was almost too much.
One of us summed up all you need to know about the dessert menu as such: "Wow, what an entirely expected dessert menu." You'll find the standard options (warm chocolate cake and bread pudding, the latter of which was quite good), so go for the Makers Mark root beer float, or as one of us aptly called it "the bourbon soup." It might have been the first time a dessert made me feel tipsy.
As we paid the bill, the waitress mentioned that the original chef had departed and menu changes would soon be underway. Later on the phone, owner Ky Nguyen confirmed that the menu will change but nothing too drastic, he said.
That's good to hear because with food this good, you want to return to it. So long, Peking Tom's.
Kingston Station, 25 Kingston St., 617-482-6282, kingston station.com. Appetizers: $7-$11. Salads: $8-$15. Sandwiches: $9-$13. Entrees: $10-$26. Wines by the glass: $6-$9.
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.