Cheap Eats 2011: Elephant Jumps

At a time when local meats and produce are hailed as good for you, fried foods are often dismissed as bad for you. But frying isn’t inherently bad–it just takes skill to produce items of delicacy and lightness. That expertise is on display at this Merrifield gem, where many of the best dishes emerge from the fry basket–and end on a stylish white plate or in a martini glass.

Take the crispy salmon, a moist filet encased in a crunchy shell and set on steamed jasmine rice (get it with a cup of sweet, zingy ginger sauce). Or a dish of deep-fried bay scallops tossed with basil, scallions, and red peppers. Or a variation on fishcake that mates fresh-ground fish with curry paste and becomes a sort of savory madeleine–a dunk in the accompanying cucumber sauce doesn’t accentuate the flavors so much as activate them.

Also good: Elephant Jumps salad, with shredded apple, roasted coconut, shrimp, lime, and chili; spicy papaya salad; drunken noodles; fried-watercress salad.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.

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