Alright some time has passed by and this time I have been doing my homework. I also went to a Universal Appliance store twice, and the second time I spoke with the store manager for about an hour and a half, discussing all my options and weighting out the pros and cons, etc.
First, I realized that the KitchenAid I was originally looking at is not for me. Apparently those types of $2,000 ranges are not much better than the $700 ranges you find everywhere (Whirlpool, Kenmore, etc...). I would be getting more features and more looks, but not really more quality. To be honest I kinda had made my decision before talking to the manager, just looking at the range. It looked cheap, flimsy, I didn't like the grates at all, and I realized I've never been a fan of electronics and touch knobs anyway.
So maybe I need to raise my budget a bit. After an hour and half talking with the manager and hours and hours of online research, I now feel comfortable buying a pro-style look range in the $3,500 price range that has much less features (all gas range, no electronics) but seems much better built. I'd rather want a very solid, good range that does one thing well, than an "elite" cheap range that does everything but is still a cheap range.
One of the things that was important to me was reliability, but frankly I've wasted enough time reading reviews online to realize that you can name just about any manufacturer and any range available today, and I can find you a horrible review or two (or many more) about that range. That makes it very difficult to gauge the reliability of ranges. So in a way I still feel like I'm shooting darts in the dark here, and that maybe I shouldn't pay too much attention to reliability claims, and more attention to my service contract.
My current thoughts:
1) American Range 30" Residential $3,500
This is most likely the range I am going to end up with. The company has been around for a while and has a lot of experience manufacturing pro ranges. That range has the largest oven and oven window of all the ranges I've looked at. Dual fan convection. The fans are actually inside the oven's walls, not in a box screwed on top of the wall like on a Viking range. Infrared broiler seems powerful (promising 1,500F of heat). The grates on the stovetop look very solid, and you get one grate for 2 burners so if I slide a pot from front to back I don't have to worry about individual grates sliding around like on a Viking range. The burners are sealed on top of a one-piece stainless steel surface which is reported to be easy to clean. I like the different size burners (2x17,000 1x13,000 1x9,000 BTUs), which apparently do simmer pretty well (and I own a heat diffuser anyway).
I like the simple look, all SS, or maybe a colored door if we decide to go that route.
2) Viking 30" Pro Range $3,500
While I considered that one for a while, and the store manager seemed to think that was the best choice for me, I have to say I'm pretty concerned with Viking's poor reliability reputation. The manager told me the Viking had better burners, and demonstrated those for me. While the burners do seem very good, all capable of very low simmer to full heat, I didn't really understand the arrangement: you get four full size 15,000 BTUs burners. Seems to me like the day I just want to heat a little sauce pan or a 8" skillet (which is almost daily), I would get a crazy cold spot right in the middle and flames coming up the sides of my pan? Doesn't make sense to me unless Viking was targeting customers who only use large pans all the time. I also did not like the individual burner grates at the top, as I could imagine one sliding from under my pot as I try to slide it from front to back burner.
3) Viking 30" Residential Range $2,550
This one I liked a lot. Exactly the same oven as the Viking Pro, but different burners of different size, and a continuous grate that covered two burners. Even tough this is not a Pro-style range I kinda liked the seamless design. But again with the horrible Viking reliability reputation, I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be buying one. Obviously the price is attractive here.
4) Bluestar 30" Gas Range (no convection) $2,XXX
This one has the incredible Blue Star burners and all cast iron top, and a simple gas oven without convection. The manager couldn't give me an exact price but said it's under $3,000. It looks good, and I'm sure the burners are great, but do I really need Professional burner in a residential kitchen? I'm not cooking with a Wok, and I rarely use my current 13,000 BTU sealed burners on max already. The exception is when boiling water, but honestly I don't think I've ever through that took too long. I usually have time and can wait, not an issue for me. What's tempting with those burners is the promise that the heat will have a better repartition, and no cold spots. But oh well. I thought the design was a little TOO Pro, meaning the finish wasn't really polished and the angles seemed very obtrusive. When I saw the range I had this vision of my toddler bumping his head on one of those sharp obtrusive metal angles and that immediately turned me off.
5) Wolf 30" Gas Range $4,XXX
This one is expensive, again only has larger burners, and apparently are going to be phased out for newer models pretty soon. The manager said Wolf makes incredible dual fuel ranges with true convection (meaning there's actually an electric heater around the fan which burns all smells and recirculate hot air), but didn't seem to think they were worth the price for gas-only ranges.
There were many other contenders (Jenn Air, DCS, Thermador etc..) that I eliminated for various reasons.
Thanks for all your help so far and if you have any thoughts or any models I may have overlooked, please feel free to share!