registering this weekend--need LOTS of advice, please
First of all, Congrats! All the best to you and yours.
Now, on the the question at hand. To be honest, this is difficult to answer as it somewhat depends on what you already have, your skill, what you hope to achieve in the kitchen, etc.
I was recently married and registered at Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn (which will accept each others gift cards, btw). We registered for the 'gaps' that we knew we had, so it was a little bit easier to choose items.
Asking what cookware is best is somewhat subjective. A lot of people have their faves - mine is Mauviel and a nice old cast iron skillet I got at a garage sale in the South. Can you say 'cracklins'? At the very least, I would suggest starting with a good dutch oven (lLe Creuset), A decent stainless skillet/saute and a non-stick skillet. The stainless skillet or saute will do well at browning and if it is all metal should be good for pan roasting as well. IMO the non-stick is good for making numerous dishes and sauces - and let's not forget eggs...ahhh eggs.
As for knives, I'd suggest going to the stores and holding/feeling/testing out what they have to get a feel for what works in your hand. I've mentioned it before, but I use a pinch grip and choke up on my knives. Any knife with a straight spine has a tendency to blister my index finger - so definitely try out any knife to see if you like it before registering for it. Of the knives I think you need to start - a 8" Chef's or Santoku, a bread knife, a paring knife, and maybe a utility knife.
When we registered, we knew we were lacking in party items - so we registered for linenes, serving platters and bowls, a REAL boston shaker (Man I love that thing), and hors d'oevres plates.
Hope that gives you some ideas. But remember, the great thing about registering, is that whatever you get can probably be returned if it is not exactly what you need/want. Just remember to write down what you got from whom for the all important thank you card - even if you eventually return it. Does that make me sound jaded? :-)
While you can assemble quite a nice collection of open stock cookware from the brands available at Macy's & BBB the stores don't really make it easy for you to do so. For one their pricing can be awful, for another the registry print outs don't make it easy for the gift buyers to know exactly which pot or pan you want without decoding the stores' SKU and putting the product descriptions back into English...
That said, I do think that if you feel your guests will be spending considerable sums on your cookware it makes sense to ask for some of the pricey All Clad pans. The performance of the CopperCore pans in superior in uniformity of heating and responsiveness to changes in flame. A large skillet and saucepan that would most benefit from this construction would be smartest to acquire first.
I feel that it is useful to have a few non-stick saute pans/skillets for cooking eggs, and maybe even a medium large sauce pan for cooking hot cereal and other things everyday where qucik clean-up is an asset.
You will want some pans with either a hard annodized surface or cast iron for better browning/searing.
For stews and oven braising it is nice to have heavy porcelain enamel cast iron Dutch Oven that can also be pressed into service for deep frying and baking.
When it comes to cutlery, the quality of the forged German stuff at BBB & Macy is pretty good, but there are a lot of opinions about the handle style and bolster design -- some people really prefer the design of the stuff from Global. When it comes to value most chow hounds would argue that the quality stamped knives intended for use in food service is a better deal. That said it is nice to think that as part of potential gift list you can focus and what you'd most like to have. Everyone should have a good mid sized chef's knife for day-in-day-out chopping. A serrated knife that won't tear apart bread is high on most folks lists too. A flexible boning knife and/or fillet knife is hard to pass up. If you have a long granton edge slicer you'll do much better presentations of roasted meats. Some decent kitchen shears make cutting up raw poultry easier.
The list of things that take up more space than they're worth is endless, and only you can decide how much stuff will stay in storage...
Congrats! I was married in May and as an avid chef and baker, totally loved registering for all kinds of cookware. I already had pretty good knives and some basic pots, so I used the registry to upgrade my baking pans (I got the W-S professional series) and some pots. I also got some great le creuset pieces that I adore. I would say go with what you like and what you use now, upgrading to better brands (I picked all-clad mc2) and larger sizes (in aniticpation of a family) where you think necessary.
One thing I would also recommend is to register for china. We found some very resonable styles / prices at Macy's, and you're not ever likely to buy a whole set for yourself. I'm sure you will use it for the first Thanksgiving you host, and hopefully many more occassions after that. We skipped the crystal and silver, but I think having the china is important, and people really liked giving it as gifts, too!
Good luck and enjoy!
If you're registering in Manhattan, don't forget Michael C. Fina. It somehow flies under the radar, but they have the most amazing collections of china, crystal and silverware... as well as all the appliances and cookware. Their service is VERY personal. I used to do demos there for their bridal fairs, and I have always been impressed by this store.
As for which of anything is "best," that all depends upon what YOU like and need. Do you cook, or do you make reservations?
Thanks so much everyone--your thoughts are so helpful. I do like to cook, and as a vegetarian, usually make vegetable-based meatless meals. I do soups and stews and casseroles most, and in the summer, lots of salads. That said, my husband-to-be is an omnivore, so meat and fowl will certainly come into the picture eventually. What I'd like most is high-quality pots, pans and knives. Up until now, I haven't been able to afford them, but getting married presents a wonderful opportunity. Thanks again.
Congrats! A couple of my favorite/most used things that I got from my registry a year and a bit ago were:
Oxo Salad Spinner (I had never had one before and now use it all the time. I have used a few friends salad spinners and I think the Oxo design is the best. Since I have a small apartment, I actually just got the small one and do multiple batches if needed.)
Knives (Most of my knives are Wusholf classic, but perhaps my favorite of all is a Global vegetable knife. I definitely second the recommendation to hold them before buying.)
Enameled cast iron Dutch oven
We registered at a few places, there is also a free service, I forget the name, blocked the wedding drama out of my mind but if you go on The Knot et al I'm sure you can find it, where you can do a custom registry online that will link to as many places as you want so you're not tied to one store. Also, an idea that I was bummed that I was too late to steal from a friend of mine, for her engagement party (not sure how far you are in the process, and this could also work as part of a registry, esp, if you do a mixed store one.) she asked people to bring one of their favorite bottles of wine. So not only did she get the fish poachers and the dutch ovens but some great stuff to wash it all down with. Much congratulations to you!