It’s always so much fun to go to a Tania Auger-owned restaurant. For 19 years in Sarnia and 10 years before that in London, Auger has infused her bubbly personality, skilled bartending and joy of food into her restaurants with such success that her loyal fans follow her from iteration to iteration. Her newest member of the family is Chow Ciao in the south end of Sarnia, just off Highway 402.
Auger laughs at herself and she thoroughly enjoys her own sense of adventure when it comes to creating a restaurant. For Chow Ciao she has brought a bit of New York Italian bon vivant to Sarnia, with a menu featuring meatballs that she lovingly calls “giant family jewels” and gnocchi (“little potato pillows of love”).
Auger’s good friend and decorator Ron Nuhn assisted with the creation of Chow Ciao. The gold, black and orange décor has lots of sparkle and even a few statues thrown in for good measure, including a leaning tower of Pisa on the bar and six framed Mona Lisas on the walls. “She’s gorgeous,” states Auger with a big smile and a sweep of the hand. “There’s a thousand dollars worth of fringe in this place! How crazy is that?” And an Auger restaurant wouldn’t be complete without the “Mafia Table” — a black banquette — which Auger has had at all her restaurants.
Auger also owns and operates Lola’s Lounge, which is still going strong in downtown Sarnia after 13 years. Previously, Auger operated 99 King in London for 10 years and also helped open restaurants for other owners as far afield as Turkey. She maintains her own popular catering business, for which she loves to feature meals made of appetizers. Her long-time friend, Morrell McCurrach, credits Auger as a “very creative person who loves to have the juices flowing all the time.”
Chow Ciao has seating for 60, including a lively bar dining area that was full the night we visited. There is seating for another 30 on the patio that is draped in a canopy of lights. Auger says she was inspired by a Gusto TV program on meatballs and her love of New York City. The result is a light-hearted and tasty menu with such items as Mama Mia Meatball with Major Mozzarella and Baguette, Sicilian Meatloaf Stuffed with Ham and Cheese, Meatball Soup and two kinds of spaghettini — one with marinara sauce and the “Family Jewels” that is offered with the choice of meat or vegan, and another version with meat sauce, that is Auger’s parents’ home recipe. On Sundays she offers that item with a glass of wine for $10. “Basically the meal is free,” she chuckles. It delights her to surprise her customers with such offerings, as what Auger loves most is a house full of people having a good time. She greets and bids goodbye to everyone — and they typically leave saying “See you next time!”
Chef Tyler Rawcliffe has done a great job balancing a big menu with solid value and mixing in unique daily specials, such as pork tenderloin with green apple and gorgonzola cheese. His artichoke fritto with garlic aioli is light and crispy, tender and melt-in-your-mouth beautiful. As well, some of Lola’s favourites are also on the menu at Chow Ciao, including Beef Tenderloin Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Oysters Rockefeller, and Mussels with Sambucca, Bacon and Cream. Chow Ciao uses Purdy’s Fish of Sarnia as a supplier and Rawcliffe likes to shop at the Sarnia Farmer’s Market in season.
Cozy and cosmopolitan, plus a lot of personality is what Chow Ciao offers — just like its owner.
549 Murphy Road, Sarnia
Monday–Saturday: 11 a.m. – close
Sunday: 5 p.m. – close
Jane Antoniak loves to be on the road for eatdrink magazine. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College, London.
Bruce Fyfe also loves to make meatballs and he gives Chow Ciao’s two thumbs up. He is a contributing photographer to eatdrink and a Librarian at D.B. Weldon, Western University.