As it happens, I have a couple of pieces of All-Clad and like it; but that doesn't mean I don't listen to and believe the problems people have had with customer services or uncomfortable handles. Some people hate it, for some people it's "the best," and for others -- like me -- it's just well-made multi-ply I happened to get at great sale prices. Linda, my wife, likes the handles. I have "XL" hands and just about everything is okay, besides I routinely use a towel. But we're not you.
Restaurant supply cookware, just like the home stuff, comes in a bewildering number of brands, metals, and construction types. More than anything else, what makes them "commercial" is their straight lip -- required by the NSF. There's nothing magic about stuff which comes from a restaurant supply house. You have to know what you want. Even in person, they are a lot less helpful than stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond (BB and B) and Sur La Table (SLT), and online... fuhgeddaboudit.
BTW, BB and B is very good... especially their return policy. But SLT is great. SLT does have a lot of expensive stuff, though, so WATCH OUT if you have any tendency to overbuy. Pros get a 15% discount. Not that you should lie or anything; just sayin' is all.
Meanwhile, back at the restaurant supply house: Most of what you see in US commercial kitchens is plain aluminum, and not really good for a home cook because aluminum is both highly reactive and prone to dings and warps. It's a good idea for us home cooks to have a core set of stainless or stainless-lined multi-ply because it's very much not-reactive and very warp resistant. Ed makes a fair point, but "restaurant supply" is not the be all end all panacea to your equipment confusion.
If you're looking for a basic sauce pan, skillet and can afford top of the line stuff, Vollrath's tri-ply line, "Tribute," is very good. I've had very good luck with Vollrath over the years and recommend it very highly. It's not particularly pretty, though; if that matters. When we replaced all our old stuff (mostly Calphalon aniodic), I planned to do it with Tribute mostly, but got overruled. Anyway, even though it isn't what Linda wanted it's very good stuff and an excellent first choice.
Tribute has flat, "pro" style handles with "gator grips." Pretty much everyone likes the way they work, but not the way they look. For that matter, most pro cookware has one of a couple of types of "pro" style handles -- flat and wide with or without an arch to raise the handle, or "French" (arched bar). Either is fine with me, you might hate both.
The usual professional internet suppliers not only suck at giving advice, they tend to be on the high side of retail and charge premium prices for shipping to boot. I believe "The Knife Merchant" sells Tribute at good prices, but it's been a few months since I researched it. But those few months ago, after doing the research, I would have bought from them had we bought Tribute.
If you buy pro stuff, don't forget lids. They're almost always sold separately. This stuff doesn't come in sets.
Try and be aware of weight. You don't want anything too heavy to handle when agility matters at all. For instance, if you toss-turn your sautes... You don't want your pan to force you into using a spoon or spatula, if that isn't what you usually do. Speaking of weight, helper handles can be very helpful -- especially for women. And yes, as with handles, size and gender are important here. Chef Ed and I might not have a problem toss-turning the heaviest 2.5mm thick, 300mm (12"), stainless lined, copper skillet -- we might even think it's fun -- but that doesn't make it a good choice for you. Ask yourself if you can take the largest, heaviest frying pan you're planning to buy, loaded with food, off the stove top, and slide it into the oven, with the main handle alone. Even if I could, I'd rather not -- and I ain't no weak sister, sister.
In addition to that core set of a few sauce pans and skillets, it's nice to have some specialty stuff like carbon steel skillets, enamel over cast for braising, stainless "spaghetti set," a cast iron "chicken fryer," monster stock pot, and so on and so forth. Leave some room in your cabinets.
Don't feel obligated to buy or not buy a set. If the set is made up of stuff you want, it's usually a lot less expensive to buy it that way; plus sets come with lids. On the other hand a kitchen is not an outfit, accessories don't have to match.
You want good stuff, but you don't need the most expensive and/or the best -- whatever that is. At a certain level of quality, it all cooks the same. You have to live with this stuff for a long time, so looks do count. For instance, most of our set is that extra heavy duty stainless-lined copper. It's beautiful, it's fun to use,and yes it works great -- but it doesn't work noticeably better than anything else good. It's just so damn pretty it was worth the several extra pesos to us.
Bottom line: The magic is in the cook, not the pot. All you really need is something good enough to not get in your way. Like Vollrath Tribute. Or Calphalon multi-ply stainless. Or...
Hope this helps,
Edited by boar_d_laze - 7/20/11 at 8:55pm