I recently found myself mentally reviewing this week's review while reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, a riveting study of psychology, economics and the irrational behavior that shapes and confounds both disciplines. The book is far more profound than a few bullet points can convey, but his central thesis revolves around the very human tendency to make decisions based on limited information, biases and irrelevant external circumstances.
People don't think they make decisions that way, of course, but Kahneman provides plenty of persuasive examples, including a study of an Israeli parole board that approved requests in inverse proportion to its members' hunger levels, and an experiment which showed German judges issued longer sentences after rolling a pair of dice rigged to land on a high number.
Kahneman posits that many of the problems created by irrationality can be circumvented by devising simple algorithms instead of relying on gut instincts. Equations are better than human experts at predicting a worker's future career satisfaction, the length of a hospital stay, the winner of a football game and the price of Bordeaux wine.
Algorithms are especially useful in situations where humans have to deal with seemingly contradictory facts - and Momiji, the subject of this week's review, is an overstuffed sushi roll of contradictions.
Momiji's mayo-drenched cuisine is completely at odds with the its serene décor. Its menu seems designed to appeal to eaters who have little or no familiarity with Japanese cuisine - yet my ordering was repeatedly stymied on one visit because a group of perhaps two dozen Japanese-speaking tourists had already claimed many of the most intriguing-sounding dishes on the menu.
I made as much sense of the restaurant as my human brain allowed, but I wonder whether a cold calculation could have delivered a more useful summation. According to Kahneman, a predictive algorithm shouldn't comprise more than six elements: Figuring out exactly which six independent variables best determine a restaurant's worth might have been a better use of my time than puzzling over Momiji's vague promise to serve kaiseki and deciphering its sake list.
Algorithms already guide our choices in other arts: Pandora uses algorithms to cue up songs, and Netflix employs algorithms when it suggests which movie to watch next. But, so far as I know, nobody's yet concocted an algorithm to determine whether a restaurant is good or bad, which is why I can't assign a single illuminating number to Momiji. But I can convey my experience in words: You'll find all of them here. And, for the visual version, check out Joshua Huston's slideshow.