All is well

Henri experiences fine dining for a good cause

KIND HEARTS <br>The friendly wait staff at The Well Experience are from left: David Mason, Lee Adkins, Matt Greunke and Chad Umbay.

The friendly wait staff at The Well Experience are from left: David Mason, Lee Adkins, Matt Greunke and Chad Umbay.

Photo By Mark Lore

The Well Experience: 3221 The Esplanade, almost to Eaton Road. Open Tuesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. No checks accepted. For information or reservations, call 342-7516. For more info on the Well Ministry of Rescue, call 345-6935 or visit the Web site:

Henri was pleasantly surprised the other evening by an absolutely fabulous meal, one of the best he’s had in Chico.

The Well Experience restaurant, which opened in November 2004, is a work-training component of the Well Ministry of Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting men with substance abuse and other problems who want to turn their lives around. In addition to work training, the Well provides housing, but requires a 12-month commitment to the program, which includes participation in housekeeping chores and intensive Bible study sessions. Members must also attend church twice every Sunday.

Now, despite a French-Catholic upbringing, Henri is not a particularly religious man, and he has, some would say, veered from the Path. Indeed, quite a ways from the Path—especially during his unabashedly hedonistic, globe-trotting favorite decade, the 1980s. But most of that is behind him now.

On the other hand, although middle age has modified to some degree the manner in which Henri courts life experiences, the Path that Henri has chosen—or that has chosen him—is not exactly championed by most organized religions. In fact, some religions that purport to be based on love and acceptance make it very clear that some of Henri’s choices (their word, not Henri’s) are completely unacceptable. Verily.

Proselytizers? Spare moi!

Fortunately, that’s not what The Well Experience is about. Except for the fact that the Well serves no alcoholic beverages (a pity, but Henri understands), it feels like any other upscale restaurant in town.

My server, an earnest young man of 20 or so, could not have been more attentive or charming and was clearly thrilled to be working at the Well. When I asked him about his experience, he said that he’d been waiting tables for only a week and before that had worked in the kitchen. And before the Well?

“I had started getting into some bad stuff,” he said, “so this has been very good for me.”

After munching on some warm bread and a small antipasto plate, I ordered the breaded-calamari appetizer ($6.99), which impressed me right away with both its divine taste and its presentation: on a bed of red lettuce with several sliced cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of finely chopped basil.

Soup was next. I had chosen the clam chowder, which was thick and creamy and delicious, but I also tasted the minestrone and found that the pasta, beans and rich broth combined for one of the tastiest soups I’ve ever had. I was delighted to be served a tiny bowl of raspberry sorbet afterward as a palate cleanser.

My prime rib ($14.99) came out next, served with a side of sautéed vegetables—red onions, green and red peppers, carrots, zucchini, all thinly sliced and sprinkled with chopped thyme—and au gratin potatoes blanketed in hot, softly melting, fresh Parmesan cheese. Everything was delicious, and while I was too full for dessert, I ordered a slice of chocolate cake to go, which I had planned to share with Miss Marilyn. Really, I did.

The Well Experience is run by the husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Janice DeAnnuntis. Jeff, a Ministry graduate himself, has 35 years of cooking experience in many locations, including Las Vegas. And while he has never attended chef school, his on-the-job training has clearly paid off.

Most meals at the Well Experience include five or six separate courses (antipasto, soup, salad, choice of potato, and vegetable) and range in price from about $7 (half-pound sirloin hamburger) to $20 for some of the steak and seafood dishes. Chicken, pasta and veal dishes run $12-$18. There’s also a kids’ menu ($4.99 for chicken tenders), as well as a special menu for seniors ($8.99 for broiled halibut, scampi, prime rib). Desserts (cheese cake, chocolate layer cake and carrot cake) are $4.99. All gratuities go directly to the Well Ministry program.