Story, photos by Sharon Kozden
There’s a new kid in town – a new kid on the Main Line’s block.
Erstwhile Villanova Conference Center, previously run by Aramark, closed in November, 2016. Fast forward to July 1, when The Inn at Villanova set out its welcome mat to public and community alike, proudly presenting a sleek, ultramodern and fully renovated 56-roomed hotel and conference center situated on the 32-acre site of the former Montrose Estate, home to its historic Montrose Mansion. Moreover, Villanova University is now firmly entrenched in the owner-operator driver’s seat.
Boasting 14 innovative meeting rooms and a ballroom seating up to 325, the Inn lacks for no amenities. I’ve spent many a night in upscale hotels both stateside and abroad, and the Inn at Villanova more than holds its own in every respect. All rooms include an en plein air patch of nature whether patio or balcony, where guests can sip morning cuppas and view verdant and well-maintained gardens or a star-studded sky while enjoying a post-dinner night-cap. A game room, fitness center, spacious lobby and business library are just some of the standard amenities. Delighting in the little things, I’m always aware of touches such as fruit-infused water at the check-in area. It’s a wonderful feeling when hoteliers understand that travel and hauling luggage demand thirst-quenching.
Media were invited to an open house. I checked in and joined other journalists for a tour and presentation, after which we were plied with gorgeous and succulent hors d’oeuvres, wine and champagne. Menu offerings were prepared by Adam Glickman (a former Steven Starr restaurant chef), which explains the sublime taste and flawless presentation of the mini-feast. There was ample time to ask questions and snap photos as we gathered in the Montrose Mansion’s bar to mix and mingle indoors, then step onto the stone patio, replete with tables, umbrellas and more views of the manicured grounds and gardens.
The Inn’s Conference Center’s 14 meetings rooms are state-of-the-art clean, bright and well-lighted. All feature uber-modern technology and span 400 to 1,600 square feet, which translates to between eight and 130 guest-availability. Whatever your business needs, the rooms will accommodate with everything from glass-affixed whiteboards, projectors and comfortable seating. The Inn’s functional modernity and tranquil comfort spill into the conference rooms, so whether you’re playing or brainstorming, Villanova has clearly succeeded in meeting (pun!) its goal to work with neighbors and to partner with community.
As the nation’s only Augustinian Catholic University, the Villanova Way, as is written means that Villanova “has the responsibility and the privilege of fostering a dynamic community, in which members grow in wisdom and use their gifts to improve society.” Truth, unity and love (motto) “empower Villanova to view and act in the world with integrity and purpose.” I located the following quote in a piece of found literature that perfectly reflects what I experienced throughout my stay. To wit: “Humans were created by God not for life in isolation but for the formation of social unity. The communitarian character of human existence means the good of each person is bound up with the good of the community.” Inn-deed [sic]: the Inn at Villanova delivers on its promise and responsibility.
Later that evening, we were graciously treated to dinner at nearby and also newly opened (March 1) Mistral Restaurant in the King of Prussia mall, which had Philadelphia critic Craig LeBan chiming in with three (Liberty) bells, a peal tuned to “excellent.”
The logophile in me had to discover what is a “mistral” before any eating could be done. Google it! I did and discovered the word refers to a strong Mediterranean wind that offers sea-goers the dawning of a brand new day rife with choice, potential and unlimited possibility–not unlike the innovative creations unveiled by chefs Scott Anderson and Craig Polignano.
The ingredients for the dishes at Mistral are locally-sourced, so it’s no surprise that the tasty, sumptuous offerings always delight, as freshness and quality are the foundations on which true gustatory masterpieces are built. Wings were my starter choice; the Mistral version is a must-try. My beef entrée was cooked to perfection and nestled in a blend of foodstuff accompaniments that were, in a word, inspired. The rice crisps (with their vinegary hint) are make-the-trip-worthy, as they can only be had at Mistral. Much to my chagrin, not only can I not purchase them by the bag at a grocery store; I also can’t do so at the restaurant. That said, I didn’t have to bat my baby blues, for my attentive server smuggled me a tidy takeaway box. For dessert, I went with the Chocolate Ganache Smoked Dulce de Leche, Peanut, Brownie. With a name like that, don’t be surprised by the absence of a photograph. Down the gullet it went, savory and smooth as it sounds.
As I happily sank into the cool linens of my room after a fabulous dinner and an evening of camaraderie, it occurred to me that the Inn at Villanova and Mistral had in common that same transformative, cleansing and refreshing power of the Mediterranean wind. I drifted off to sleep, happily awaiting the dawn of a new day.
Grilled Wagyu Beef Flatiron, Fresh Corn “Polenta”, Grilled Red Onion Marmalade was my red-meat treat. When I do indulge in a rare beef entrée, it had best not disappoint. This could easily carry me through another beefless month; it was that scrumptious.