• Friday , 23 February 2018

The Inn at Villanova: Brainstorm and Stay the Nova Way at New Hotel

Story, photos by Sharon Kozden


I’m no architect, but am I “Wright” in vibing something “Frank Lloydian” at the eye-catching entrance?


Arrows point the way.

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.


No expense was spared in the hors d’ oeuvres department.


Gigantor berries, meats and cheese in colorful display.


Grapes of NO wrath. Rather, grapes both bountiful and prodigious.


In the mood for ahi tuna crudo?


Belly up for miso butterscotch pork belly.


I got my duck confit spring rolls (with uber-flaky crust) in order.


Stuffed dates with bacon and goat cheese were succulent and oh-so tasty.


Bruschetta is always a classic crowd favorite.


Maine lobster rolls were a Cassie Hepler and Sharon Kozden favorite.


I’m sandwiched between two chefs, both named Adam, hence “The Adams.”


Media Tour invitees meet and greet while representing their respective beats.


Bar area in the Montrose Mansion, where media attendees gathered to enjoy bites, drinks and chats post-tour.


Patio just outside bar, where we journalists ventured to enjoy fresh air and view lush, verdant surroundings.


Stone façade covers the breadth of Villanova’s stately, imposing and historic Montrose Mansion.


Tranquil garden area boasts circular fountain, where the Latin-derived “rule of three” (“omne trium perfectum”) is evident.


Mansion backdrop as seen from well-maintained garden and fountain space.


Behold nature’s glory as designed and maintained at the Inn.


Parched on arrival, my kingdom for infused agua was duly anticipated, noted and quenched.


The Inn’s lobby: “a clean, well lighted place.”


Natural light infusion is a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) preventive.


Meet or retreat to the spacious, neat lobby area.


Library and business center: functional, cozy, inviting and deLIGHT-FULL.


Library and business center as viewed with window behind.


Since when do pool tables come with epaulets?  Tres posh in the game room.


More gaming.


Got game?


A fitness center to rival any in a top-flight hotel.


Nice rack!


A tread with a view.


The Villanova motto (“truth, unity and love”) emblazoned on a stone wall.


Easy to read, attractively designed signage ensures no confusion for guests.


What’s going display keep guests in-the-know.


One of many large artworks adorning walls as one navigates between new (Inn) and old (Montrose Mansion).


It’s hard to imagine, but merely a few steps separate this piece from the Mansion’s antiquity.


Don’t you just want to break out the “Murphy’s Oil” and have at it?  More Montrose Mansion beauty.


Ornate chandelier harkens back in time.


I have an urge to set this table in period china. I do believe a roasted grouse may be on the dinner menu.


The Inn’s Grab and Go café and bar can switch from breakfast to cocktails on a dime.


The café’s seating area follows suit with rest of Inn’s neat, clean modernity.


Finding my room required neither squinting nor reading glasses.


A bathroom as nice as any in a classy hotel. Quality product, to boot.


My room’s focal point was the perfect choice for an accent piece.


ALL rooms sport a spot of nature. The ‘Nova way strikes again.


The spacious check-in area, where I was warmly greeted and hospitably welcomed (photo courtesy of the Inn).


I could easily confer all day in such a room (photograph provided by the Inn).


Let’s get down to business (photograph provided by the Inn).


Elegant ballroom for your next banquet or maybe wedding fete (photograph provided by the Inn)?

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.


Explore owner Cassie Hepler and Sharon Kozden pose cute at Mistral’s outdoor dining area prior to chowing down.


Mistral’s interior décor touts texture as only nature can display.


Relax within this inviting mix of rustic wood grain and fuzzy ball-bowl ornaments accented by candles.


A visually soothing and cool wave of ceramic plates rolls over wall space.


Patrons enjoy food and drinks surrounded by sleek, chill ambiance.


Wanting to be where the action is, I dined front and center and in so doing, learned some trade jargon and more.  Calling “hands” means foodstuff is ready to be delivered, like, STAT!


It’s not a fascinator but with some craftwork, it could be. The airy rice crisps with a hint of vinegar are melt-in-mouth enticing.


These sea foam-appearing creations warranted a second snap. They paired perfectly with a light, crisp Pinot Grigio.


My appetizer choice was wings as only Mistral can deliver with salsa verde, crema and cilantro. Uniquely unique!


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.

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