I got my dad the Fujiwara FKM Santoku. It's quite nice, a great bargain, and more than enough knife once you put an edge on it.
I'll mention a knife/ brand that many here turn their noses up at: Shun.
Here's the thing though: not all Shuns are created equal. Some of their designs are great, some are not for me.
IMO, One of the best knives that they ever made was their old "elite" line santoku.
It's stainless clad sg2 (which is a very hard and wear resistant "super" powdered stainless) and much better than their standard vg10.
It was my first good knife and even after acquiring some really spectacular custom and ultra high end knives, it still holds up well in comparison.
So, when Shun discontinued their "elite" line and CKTG had them on supersale, i bought one for my sister for her birthday and first good knife. 9 months of daily use and 0 maintenance later, it's still in great shape: no chips or damage and the factory edge (which was very good) is still at maybe 80% (push cut paper with some resistance).
It has a conservative design, but still looks "cool" enough that non knife folks (especially) girls both like how it looks and are not intimidated to use it.
The handle and bolster are kinda an east/ west fusion design and very comfortable to both big and small hands.
However, one of it's biggest selling points is Shun's excellent warranty and customer care -which is a valuable thing when giving an expensive knife to a new user.
In my experience (I did something really stupid with mine once), they replaced a knife with repairable damage -no questions asked.
At full, original msrp, the price was a bit too high to be called a deal, but now that they are discontinued, you should be able to find one for under $200.
After all these advises, just on more. Look at the profile. Some are very flat, like a nakiri, and will do fine with push-cutting. Others are almost small gyutos, slightly bellied, with their tip about in the middle. These are more suited for general use.
I bought my wife the ZDP-189 Santoku 165mm at JCK, she loves it and uses it all the time. Nice handle too
+1 on the Fujiwara FKM.
My wife's favorite knife is the 120mm.