Chances are, not everyone in the Nova nation knows what to make of the Refectory, a surprisingly sophisticated addition to the Commons, the university’s new $225 million residence hall. Though it’s managed by Zavino Hospitality Group—the company behind four snazzy restaurants in the Philadelphia area, including Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr—first impressions of the Refectory’s exterior are fairly institutional.
But once inside, diners experience an attractive club-like atmosphere with mirrored pillars, subway tiles, wood-finished banquettes and cedar-stained floors. The open kitchen and 18-seat bar are the twin centerpieces of the 158-seat dining area. Overall, it exudes a steakhouse-like sleekness.
Zavino owner Greg Dodge incorporates a something-for-everyone approach into a lunch-and-dinner menu defined by steak, seafood and American comfort classics, along with a few Italian, Asian and Pacific Rim options. Noteworthy starters include tangy grilled prosciutto pinwheels with creamy mozzarella centers and sweet aged balsamic, and the four Osaka-style sushi options, which are formed into cubes rather than rolls.
During a recent visit, a group of ladies shared an organic salmon poke bowl and a tomato salad sprinkled with crispy shallots and sherry vinaigrette (a riff on the popular version from Margate, N.J.’s Steve & Cookies). Elsewhere, students and professors treated themselves to juicy house burgers and tamarind-slathered half racks of barbecued ribs.
Our party of four began with happy hour drinks at the striking U-shaped bar, where we sipped two signature cocktails. The Dodge—made with Tito’s vodka, grapefruit and rose syrup—was at once sweet and formidable. The agave-laced Wildcat showed its collegiate spirit via a generous splash of Bluecoat gin.
Dinner included a brawny Cubano with roasted Iberico pork, ham and Swiss cheese, a perfectly prepared roasted half chicken, and a moist and satisfying take on fish and chips. Also excellent was the Refectory Chop, a veritable cornucopia of baby gem lettuce, green beans, radicchio, sopressata, bell peppers and hearts of palm, all of it drizzled with a tangy red-wine vinaigrette.
We finished the evening on a high note. Dessert selections ranged from the traditional (Key lime pie, profiteroles, butterscotch crème brûlée) to the more unusual (a tiramisu ice pop). Fittingly, there’s also the Wildcat Blueberry Pie. But it was the chocolate butter cake—with Nutella gelato and raspberries—that made the most significant impression.
Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding Villanova’s newest campus addition, the public seems to be embracing the Refectory. Fittingly professional, the young staff will only improve after a bit more training. And with the grab-and-go Parliament Espresso & Coffee Bar right next door, this “upscale American grill and wine bar” is the more ambitious half of a satisfying high-end-meets-casual dining experience.