04/16/2013 09:46 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2013

Top 5 Tastes: Some Exploratory Eating

Other than my go-to breakfast at Bite, this week's eating was all about exploration. I traveled to an unfamiliar corner of New Jersey, discovered Beecher's underground restaurant, stopped in for the first time at a restaurant I often pass (Saxon & Parole) and ventured to Copenhagen by way of Tribeca. While I didn't spend nearly enough time outside Manhattan (other than the jaunt to Jersey), I was reassured of the vibrant culinary landscape at my fingertips.

1. Jalapeño Cornbread Whoopee Pies with Goat Cheese and Bacon Filling (Sarah's House, Morris Plains, NJ)
I have foodie friends who wax poetic about Korean tacos, barrel aged bourbon, and David Chang but almost never cook. Then there's Sarah, a busy lawyer who spends her free time whipping up homemade pulled pork and Thai curry, or adapting recipes for salted caramel ice cream. She's the queen of kitchen appliances, a master cook and an incredible hostess. A friend and I visited her in New Jersey, and upon arrival, were greeted by a spread of snacks that would give Ina Garten a run for her money. I immediately went for the whoopie pies and didn't stop until our departure 24 hours later. The cornbread was crumbly and hinted at spice, while the goat cheese and bacon filling was creamy and smoky, holding together the cookie-like disks. The flavors of corn, jalapeño, goat cheese and bacon worked famously together, and nothing seemed to overpower. The world needs more savory whoopie pies.

2. World's Best Mac & Cheese (Beechers Hand Made Cheese, New York, NY)
It seems fitting that a place specializing in homemade cheese would serve a mind-blowing Macaroni and cheese. In fact, an entire portion of the menu at Beecher's hip cavernous restaurant is devoted to the Kraft-popularized dish. We opted for the cheese-only version advertised as "World's Best" not wanting to distract ourselves before we'd experienced the basics. Before it was on the table, the dish announced its arrival as we inhaled the scent of their Flagship cheese, a combination of cheddar and Gruyère, melted with mild but present Monterey Jack. We dug in, scraping the sides of the bubbling bowl, making sure to get the crispy browned corners in addition to the rich unctuous middle. The succulent noodles played their role as vehicles for cheese, and we ate until not a bite was left.

3. Middle Eastern Egg Sandwich (Bite, New York, NY)
Although I spend a lot of time exploring new places and things to eat, I'm no stranger to food repetition. When I find a dish, restaurant, cocktail or recipe that I like, I stick with it. Living close to Bite's East Village location and considering $18 eggs (brunch in Manhattan) offensive, I frequently order the Middle Eastern Egg Sandwich, relishing in the fact that for under $5 I can get something delicious, (relatively) healthy and filling. The bready vessel of pita is chock full of Israeli salad (diced cucumber, tomatoes and herbs), warm egg and hummus. The salad brightens the hummus and egg, while a spicy tang of hot sauce awakes the senses. Whether I eat it at home or at Bite, this cheap and hearty breakfast invariably requires a knife and fork...followed by a nap.

4. Portobello Mushroom Pot with Housemade Whiskey Jelly. (Saxon + Parole, New York, NY)
After finding the New Museum closed, a friend and I decided on a cocktail and snacks in lieu of cultural enrichment. The drinks and oysters were a delight, but the real show-stealer was a Portobello Mushroom Pot served in a glass jar; an edible terrarium of sorts. A layer of transparent puce-tinted Whiskey jelly covered the mushroom dip, which we spread on toasts. The mushroom flavor was so intense that we were reminded of truffles, and the layer of Whiskey jelly tempered the spread's creaminess, achieving perfect balance.

5. Herring in Dill Sauce with Radish, Pickled Red Onion and Crispy Rye Bread (Aamanns-Copenhagen, New York, NY)
The New Nordic craze is ever-present here in New York, and while I generally exhibit disdain for food trends, basic tenets of Scandinavian cuisine appeal to me: cured and smoked fish, pickled vegetables and lots of rye bread. I haven't consumed freshly picked moss or crawling ants à la Noma, but Aamanns-Copenhagen was a delicious representation of less experimental Danish cuisine. The clean, colorful presentation only enhanced the dishes and I sheepishly Instagrammed throughout the meal (...I know). Having inherited my dad's love of herrings, I knew I had to order them. The fish's soft flesh was dappled with the most fragrant dill sauce, heightening my conception of the classic flavor combination. Thinly sliced radish and pickled red onion added heat and acid, and crunchy crumbs of toasted rye bread provided texture and a wheaty burst of flavor. We left dazed, exiting Copenhagen in the middle of Tribeca.